San Diego is about as dog-friendly a city as you will find anywhere in the United States. We have multiple beaches where off-leash dogs are welcome. We have a plethora of dog parks that are there specifically to give our dogs exercise. Most hiking trails in the county allow dogs to enjoy them with their owners. Even restaurants around town have areas for people to sit and dine with their dogs. People in San Diego are used to seeing “Man’s Best Friend” almost anywhere they go. Unfortunately, a lot of people in the area have also endured the extremely difficult experience of being bitten and injured in a dog bite attack. Below you’ll find a brief overview of this issue. Those who have been harmed in this manner should contact the San Diego dog bite lawyers at Gomez Trial Attorneys as soon as possible.
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, more than 4.7 million dog bite attacks occur across the country every year. Approximately 800,000 of these attacks lead to injuries that are severe enough that the survivor seeks out medical attention. Nearly half of these 800,000 people will need what is described as emergency medical treatment. Dozens of people in the United States are killed in dog bite attacks on an annual basis. The people most vulnerable to dog bite attacks are children.
These are troubling statistics to be sure. When people are injured in dog bite attacks, they need to understand their potential legal rights and options. California follows the doctrine of strict liability when it comes to dog bites. That means that if someone is bitten by a dog, he or she need only prove that the defendant owned the dog, that the dog bite took place either on public property or on private property where the victim was legally present, that the victim was bitten and that the victim was injured.
California has eliminated the “one-free bite” rule. This rule used to state basically that if a dog had never exhibited any violent behavior in the past, the owner of a dog in an attack would most likely not be found liable. That is no longer the case. A dog owner can be found liable for damages if he or she owns the dog and it bites the victim even if it has never bitten anyone in the past. Dog owners and those attacked by dogs need to be aware of that.
When someone is injured in a dog bite attack, that injured person has the right to file a California personal injury lawsuit against the owner of that dog as long as that injured person was not trespassing on the dog owner’s property. There are other exceptions, but the law places the onus on the dog owner to make sure that all dogs are properly restrained and prevented from attacking people. In general, an injured person can file a claim against both the dog owner and the dog owner’s insurance company provided that the dog owner has homeowner’s or some sort of liability insurance.
As much as we all love dogs, it is terrifying when an angry or frightened canine bites you or someone you love. If you are lucky, the dog comes to its senses or its owner brings it under control without any real harm being done. If you are lucky. But many people aren’t so fortunate. A dog bite that breaks the skin can cause severe health complications and deep, lasting, physical and emotional trauma.
As San Diego personal injury lawyers, we know all too well the tragic toll catastrophic dog bites can take on a family and a community. Below, we answer some of the questions our clients most frequently ask us about dog bites (many of which also apply to other types of animal bites). If you want to learn more about your or a loved one’s legal rights after a dog bite inflicts serious injuries, contact an experienced San Diego dog bite attorney today.
Far more common than you might think. According to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), dog bites are the most common form of animal bite in the United States. The vast majority of them go unreported. But even so, public health researchers estimate there are at least five million dog bite incidents in the country every year, resulting in nearly a thousand emergency room visits per day. California accounts for more than its fair share of those visits. In 2018, the insurance giant State Farm reported that Californians suffer dog bites at a higher rate than residents of any other state. CDPH reports that in 2011, “over 50,000 animal bites (136 per 100,000 persons) were reported to local health departments and animal control agencies in California.” The vast majority of those were dog bites.
CDPH also reports that children are far more likely to be bitten by dogs than adults. The highest incidence of emergency room visits for dog bites in California is among children ages 1 to 6. Male children are slightly more likely to be bitten than female children.
Approximately half of all dog bites happen in the home where the dog lives, according to CDPH. Households with two or more dogs face a far higher risk of bites than homes with only one dog. Younger male dogs that have not been neutered have the highest probability of attacking someone, according to researchers.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), “[d]ogs bite for a variety of reasons, but most commonly as a reaction to something.” CDPH reports that about half of all dog bites result from a dog being provoked. Provocation is a normal response for dogs. A dog may feel provoked when it perceives a threat to itself, its territory, or something it cares about (such as its food or its owner). A human’s failure to respond appropriately to a dog’s social cues may also provoke an attack. This helps to explain the disproportionate number of young children who constitute of dog bite victims; they simply do not recognize when a dog shows the typical signs of fear, stress, or ill-health that precede a provoked attack.
Of course, many dog bites happen unprovoked (or, at least, animal control officials lack adequate information to conclude the attack was provoked). Research also suggests that some breeds—such as pit bulls—bite far more often than others even when unprovoked. That is why it is critically important for parents to teach young children dog bite prevention skills, such as the proper way to approach a dog and how to recognize signs of agitation.
California law holds dog owners strictly liable for damages suffered by a person bitten by a dog in a public place or on lawfully private property. Strictly liable means the law always holds the dog owner liable, whether or not the dog owner knew the dog was dangerous or took any precautions to prevent the dog from attacking or biting. The only time a dog owner may not have legal liability for damages to someone bitten is if the person is on the owner’s property unlawfully (for example, a burglar), or the dog owner deploys the dog in an official law enforcement capacity against a suspect. Someone is on private property lawfully if authorized to be there in the performance of an official job (including as a mail carrier) and when that person has the owner’s express or implied permission to be there.
Dog owners in the city of San Diego and San Diego County must comply with the San Diego County animal control ordinance. In addition, dog owners in the city of San Diego must also adhere to the city of San Diego’s municipal code sections addressing pet ownership, to the extent they differ from the County ordinance.
Courtesy of the San Diego County website, here are some highlights of the local laws on dog ownership.
The information above only summarizes some of the relevant dog laws in San Diego. For complete information, please call us today.
You can file a complaint about the dog with San Diego County animal control. Upon receiving the complaint, the Animal Control Officer will start an investigation into whether the dog should be deemed “Dangerous.” Upon completing the investigation, the officer presents the results to a Lieutenant who decides whether to refer the complaint to the Dangerous Dog Task Force. If so, then there is a second review of the case, after which the Task Force may tell the owner that it intends to designate the dog as dangerous. The owner has the right to request a hearing on this determination. Ultimately, if the dog receives a dangerous dog designation, the owner will likely have to comply with supplemental restraint, enclosure, and insurance requirements, and will face sanctions and fines for failure to comply.
In addition to reporting the dog to San Diego County animal control, you may also want to consult an experienced dog bite attorney if the dog bit you or someone you love and has caused serious physical and/or emotional trauma.
As we mentioned above, California law makes dog owners “strictly liable” for damages suffered by someone bitten by the owner’s dog. No two dog bites are identical, of course, so there is no single type of damages a dog bite victim may have the right to recover from the owner. But as a general matter, anyone who has suffered the trauma of a dog bite may have the right to seek compensation for:
The amount of damages potentially recoverable from a dog owner after a dog bite will vary from case-to-case. Consulting with an experienced San Diego dog bite attorney is the best way to determine what a reasonable amount of compensation would be in any particular situation.
This is a matter of some debate. Some evidence shows that particular breeds, such as pit bulls, pose a higher risk of unprovoked attacks than other breeds. But veterinarians will tell you the research is not particularly reliable. For one thing, accurate statistics are difficult to come by, because so many dog bite incidents go unreported (even when a bite breaks the skin and should be reported). For another, some dog breeds are far more popular than others. So, for example, observing that there are more reported bites by German Shepherds than other breeds may mislead the public, simply because that is a very popular dog breed and it will necessarily have more reported bites than others.
The bottom line is that all dogs can bite. Young, male, un-neutered (or intact) dogs pose the highest risk. Some dogs may have less of a predisposition to bite, but that should not give anyone a false sense of security. Any dog that feels threatened, stressed, or sick may bite.
The AVMA recommends taking the following steps if you have been bitten by a dog and the bite breaks the skin.
Even if a dog has its vaccinations up to date, do not assume you can skip medical care. It is a popular myth that dogs’ mouths are cleaner than humans’. Dogs have just as many, albeit different, microbes in their mouths as humans do. A bite that breaks the skin can cause a serious infection. Never take a dog bite lightly. Follow the steps above and seek immediate medical care.
After seeking appropriate medical care, report the bite to San Diego County animal control authorities at the numbers above. The owner is obligated to do this, but you should, too. Do not assume the owner will report his or her own dog.
Finally, after receiving the appropriate medical care and reporting the bite to authorities, consult with an experienced San Diego dog bite injury attorney. A bite that causes injuries, scars, and emotional trauma to you or your family may entitle you to significant compensation. But it is important to act quickly to preserve your legal rights by giving your attorney adequate time to research your potential claim.
San Diego County suggests taking these measures to avoid becoming a victim of a dog bite:
It’s not uncommon for people who own dogs to refuse to deal with those who have been injured in a reasonable manner. That’s because people love their dogs and do not want to admit that they can be violent. It may also mean that they do not want to face financial liability for damages inflicted by their dogs. If you face this difficult situation, you need the help of San Diego dog bite lawyers who have been standing up for the rights of those wrongfully harmed for more than a decade. Contact Gomez Trial Attorneys today to schedule a free initial consultation.
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