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To their owners, dogs are just furry members of the family. Dog bite victims rarely feel that way. As the American Veterinary Medicine Association explains, “Any dog can bite.” When they attack, they often injure young children who are the most vulnerable to injury. Dogs hurt people in ways you’d expect from vicious animals. They cause scars and disabilities that often last a lifetime. Some dog attacks are so vicious, they cause fatal injuries.
Don’t wait for a dog to attack you before you know and understand your rights. If you’re a dog owner, you should understand your legal responsibilities before your dog injures someone. We created our San Bernardino Dog Bite FAQ because we believe that dog owners and non-dog owners need to know the answers to these important questions.
The AVMA tracks dog bite numbers across the country.
They’ve documented their most recent statistics in their Dog Bites by The Numbers infographic.
Dog attacks have always been a safety issue for US mail carriers. USPS statistics show that 5,803 mail carriers sustained injuries due to dog attacks in one recent year. The USPS draws attention to the problem by publishing an annual Dog Attack National Ranking List. With 777 mail carrier attacks in one recent year, California is the number one state on their list. Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, and Long Beach are among the top 20 cities for dog bites across the country.
When a mail carrier feels threatened by a dog in your home, they have the option of refusing to deliver your mail. Once a postman makes that decision, you must pick up your mail at your local Post Office.
Dogs bite for many reasons. While dogs sometimes initiate aggressive attacks, often they react instinctively to a situation or a person.
Dogs attack when their owners fail to maintain control of their actions. Some owners don’t fence their yards or keep their dogs on leashes while away from home. Dogs attack when a potential victim touches them against their will or interacts with them while they’re eating or playing.
Sometimes pet owners encourage other people to interact with their dogs when the dog prefers otherwise. Owners also allow young children to play with their dogs, not anticipating the dog’s negative reaction.
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Some dogs attack playfully, but often, their attacks are defensive. When dogs perceive danger, they act aggressively. They sometimes use their claws, but their teeth cause the most damage.
Like many wild animals, a dog’s teeth are powerful weapons. Their sharp canines evolved for cutting and tearing flesh. They’re long enough to inflict deep puncture wounds.
When a dog bites, they sometimes refuse to let go. This is particularly harmful when the victim is a small child or a frail older adult. With a single vicious bite, a dog often causes damage through skin and muscle, down to the bone. A dog attack often leaves victims with:
California Civil Code holds owners strictly liable for their dog’s actions. Unlike other states, responsibility isn’t contingent on a prior pattern of aggressive behavior. An owner is responsible when a dog bites someone in a public place, even if it’s a first-time attack. Owners are also responsible when their dog bites someone who is “lawfully in a private place,” including the dog owner’s home. The definition of lawfully includes:
Exceptions apply to this strict liability standard. An injured person can’t file a suit against a governmental agency when a dog defends itself or an agency employee involved in:
These exceptions don’t apply to parties who were not involved in the actions which required police or military intervention.
Young children are more vulnerable to dog attacks mostly because they behave like children. They squeal, laugh, cry, and make sudden motions. While the child is simply excited or having fun, their behavior sometimes makes a dog feel threatened. When a young child hugs or touches a dog, or grabs their toys, they can’t consider the consequences. While a child often acts out of simple joy or curiosity, dogs sometimes feel threatened, and they attack.
When a dog attacks, children usually sustain more severe injuries than an adult. A small child’s height places their face, neck, and head at the dog’s level. When a dog feels threatened, a child’s most vulnerable body parts become easily accessible targets. When attacking their “attacker,” dogs don’t hold back. A larger dog sometimes uses its weight to immobilize a child, while using their teeth and claws to cause damage.
Because a young child is so frail, a dog easily damages their skin, muscle, and bones. Often the attack sequence occurs so quickly, an adult can’t stop a dog before they cause serious damage.
California laws hold dog owners responsible for their pet’s actions. Ironically, pet organizations often impose on potential victims the burden of keeping themselves safe. Dog owners know their pet’s body language. They understand when they’re ready to attack. Sadly, literature and programs designed to promote dog safety often hold non-dog-lovers responsible for knowing and recognizing some of these same issues.
The AMVA and other organizations hold annual Dog Bite Prevention campaigns to teach potential dog bite victims to prevent their injuries. As long as dog owners fail to restrain their dogs, these safety warnings remain relevant. They’re particularly important for families with dogs and children.
The California Department of Public Health publication “Don’t Let the Dogs Bite,” also shares lessons for young children to help them avoid dog bites.
Insurance companies have started rebelling against the traditional approach to paying dog bite claims. This is primarily because dog attack claims continue rising and claim costs increase each year. An Insurance Information Institute report estimates that insurers paid out $797 million in dog-bite related claims during one recent year. With a record of 2,396 paid claims, California has the highest number of dog bite claims in the country.
Dogs were once considered a normal homeowner policy liability exposure. With annual increases in paid claims, dog attack risks are predictably costly. Most homeowners’ policies still cover a dog owner’s liability exposure. As with other enhanced risks, some insurers are limiting their exposure with policy form changes and exclusionary endorsements.
Canine liability exclusion. Most homeowners and renters insurance policies still accept their insured’s dog bite claims. Even when they refuse to pay for dog-related liability claims, some insurers still acknowledge their duty to defend against lawsuits. Other insurers take steps to eliminate the exposure before it becomes a problem. A few policies include blanket canine liability exclusions. These endorsements specifically exclude coverage for any injuries or property damage an insured’s dog causes.
Breed-specific exclusions. Some insurers specifically exclude liability coverage for claims related to certain dog breeds. An article published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association first spotlighted this controversy in 2000. The article discussed 10 years of research into fatal dog bite injuries. Investigators concluded that Rottweilers were the most dangerous dog. Pet lovers and veterinary organizations have criticized the idea of certain breeds being inherently aggressive and dangerous. Despite protests, some insurance companies have excluded liability coverage for dogs deemed dangerous. The list of excluded dogs often includes:
Prior bite exclusion. Some insurers exclude liability coverage based on a specific dog’s history. The endorsement, Vicious Dogs and Dogs With Prior Bite History Liability, eliminates coverage for owners whose dogs have previously caused injuries.
Non-renewal or refusal to insure. Insurers usually cannot cancel policies midterm because of adverse claims, but they often non-renew them. When a company pays a claim for dog attack injuries, it serves as notice of the enhanced liability risk. Insurers often use policy renewal as an opportunity to discontinue coverage for a known hazard.
When insurance companies don’t want to insure families with dogs, they identify the risk during the underwriting process and refuse to insure the home.
Have you sustained an injury in a dog attack? Given the current dog liability coverage dilemma, you might have a problem recovering damages for your dog bite injury. When a dog bites you, you can’t assume that the owner’s liability policy will pay. Some insurance carriers will investigate and negotiate a settlement. Some will investigate your claim and reserve their right to deny coverage to their insured. Others will deny coverage outright. When that occurs, insurers often close their claim files without contacting you.
As with any liability claim, recovering damages is a more efficient process when an insurance carrier handles the claim. When the responsible party doesn’t have liability insurance, you can still recover damages for your injury. If you file a lawsuit and obtain a judgment, the responsible dog owner will owe you for your damages. If the insurer won’t pay, the Superior Court in Riverside County provides a legal process to enforce your judgment against the dog owner.
Do you own a dog? What the AMVA says about dog bites is true. Any dog can bite. If you own a dog in California, you are responsible for any injuries your dog causes. Before your dog has a bad day and bites someone, review your liability coverage with your agent. If your policy doesn’t insure you for your dog’s actions, ask about coverage endorsements or stand-alone dog liability policies. If your policy covers dog liability claims, some agents recommend personal umbrella policies. They add a layer of coverage that pays if your dog causes damage that exceeds your homeowner or renter policy’s liability limit.
If a dog bites you, we know how to identify the insurance policies that might cover your injuries, and how to fight for the best settlement or judgment available to you.
Yes. San Bernardino dog bite attorneys usually have more success in recovering damages than injured people. When you’re injured under any circumstances, you should consider a free legal consultation with Gomez Trial Attorneys. Handling a serious injury claim is a challenge that requires experience, skill, and full-time dedication. A law firm takes care of the essential details while
you recover from your injuries. Your initial dog bite injury consultation is complimentary. You share your story with us, and you learn more about your legal options. When you consult our law firm, you don’t have to make any immediate decisions. It’s up to you if you choose to move forward with a claim or a lawsuit.
If you suffered injuries in an animal attack of any kind, including a dog bite attack, an attorney can help you better understand your legal rights and help fight for the compensation you deserve for your injuries. Contact Gomez Trial Attorneys, Accident & Injury Lawyers at (619) 237-3490 today for your free consultation.
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