Steps to Take After a Dog Bite Accident - Adamson Ahdoot

California Legal Blog

What to Do After a Dog Bite Accident

Dog owners are legally responsible for preventing their dogs from damaging property or endangering other people. If their dog bites another person, they’re liable for damages suffered by the victim. This article will cover what to do after a dog bite accident and everything else you need to know about dog bite personal injury cases.

a potentially dangerous dog

Understanding California Dog Bite Laws

California does not follow the one-bite rule. The “one-bite rule” means that a dog owner is only liable for injuries if their dog has bitten someone before. 

In California, the state will hold the owner responsible for damages even if the dog has no previous record of attacking someone.

According to California’s “strict liability rule,” the owner is at fault if:

  • The injured person was bitten
  • The accident occurred inside the owner’s property or in a public place

The state assumes that other conditions beyond a previous bite should put an owner on notice. As such, dog owners are held to a high standard. These conditions include:

  • The dog has been trained to attack or fight;
  • The dog is a breed known to have aggressive tendencies;
  • The dog has been mistreated in a way that causes it to react violently with little provocation;
  • The dog is in a situation that forces it to behave aggressively;

This law presumes that the owner should know their dog the best and use that in-depth knowledge to manage their pet and keep others safe.

Like most laws, there are exceptions to California’s strict liability laws, such as:

  • Trespassing – A victim must have been on public property or lawfully on private property
  • Military or police dogs – Military and police agencies are not held to strict liability if a dog bites or attacks a person while carrying out duties as a police or military animal
  • Provocation – A victim cannot take legal action if they provoked the dog before being bitten

Dog Attack Classifications According to California Law

California classifies dog attacks in two ways: 

Potentially Dangerous 

If a dog has attacked a person or another animal twice in the past three years, it is considered potentially dangerous. Similarly, it is classified under this category if it has bitten someone once and caused minor injuries.

Vicious

The dog is categorized as vicious if it has severely injured or killed someone once in the past three years. The same is true if it has attacked another animal several times.

If the owner was aware of the dog’s vicious or potentially dangerous nature and chose not to do anything to keep others safe, it could present stronger liability against them, giving the victim more reason to file criminal charges.

Consequences of Determination

After determining that the dog that attacked another person is potentially dangerous or vicious, the state may conduct the following procedures:

Euthanasia

California may require mandatory euthanasia for a dog that has attacked someone if:

  • The dog has rabies;
  • The dog has been raised to fight and attack people;
  • The dog has severely injured or killed at least two people in two separate incidents 

There will be a court hearing to determine whether the dog is a threat to public safety. If there is no evidence presented in defense of the dog, or if the evidence presented is insufficient, then euthanasia will proceed.

Penalties

The dog’s owner may be liable to pay hefty fines, face imprisonment, and be prohibited from owning a dog. In California, fines don’t typically exceed $500 for potentially dangerous dogs. 

However, the owner of a vicious dog may be charged a $1,000 fine and will be prohibited from having custody of any dog for up to three years.

Civil vs. Criminal Liability in a Dog Bite Accident Case

Besides presenting strong evidence, the victim must file a civil suit as soon as possible. As stated in California’s statute of limitations for a dog bite personal injury claim, the deadline for filing civil cases is within two years. 

Aside from civil liability, the dog owner may also face criminal liability. The defendant can charge the owner with either a misdemeanor or felony if the dog is considered dangerous or vicious. A misdemeanor is given if the dog only injured the person.

But in the event of a death, the owner will be convicted of a felony. In some cases, the owner may face manslaughter or murder charges if the dog attack resulted in a brutal death.

What is Considered a Dog Bite?

According to the law, a dog bite is when a dog cuts, grips, or seizes a person’s skin and wounds, scratches, or pierces it. It does not necessarily have to break the skin to be considered a bite.

Cases where the person was injured because the dog tripped over, jumped on, or scratched them with its claws but never bit them, are not considered under California’s dog bite law.

dog biting rope by the beach
Everyone should know what to do after a dog bite accident.

How Can a Dog Owner Defend Themselves?

These are several liability defenses dog owners may use to defend themselves against a dog bite accident lawsuit:

No Proof of Ownership

In some cases, stray dogs may wander into another person’s property. A dog found on someone’s property doesn’t necessarily mean the property owner owns it.

A person who has control of the dog is considered its owner, which may also be verified by veterinarian or animal control records. 

The Victim Was a Trespasser

If the victim wasn’t a guest on the owner’s private property and was unlawfully there when the attack occurred, the state will not hold the dog owner accountable for the accident.

The Victim Provoked or Harassed the Dog Before the Attack

If the injured person attacked the dog first, the owner would not be liable for damages. The owner may prove that the accident could not have occurred if the victim hadn’t been annoying, hitting, or attacking the dog with an object.

As dog bites are a fundamental risk associated with their occupations, individuals who work directly with dogs, such as groomers, veterinarians, and dog trainers, may not be eligible for compensation for a dog bite accident.

But there are four conditions under which they may be able to receive compensation:

  • The victim was bitten before or after working with the dog, but not while they were employed in a job where they worked directly with dogs;
  • The victim was an employee working for the dog owner;
  • The owner was aware that the dog has a history of biting people, but did not disclose that information to the person handling the dog;
  • The dog owner signed a contract that made them liable for injuries caused by the dog;

What to Do After a Dog Bite Accident

In the aftermath of a dog bite, here are the most important steps to take:

Seek Medical Attention as Soon as Possible

Seek medical attention immediately after the attack to prevent an infection. Receiving prompt treatment may also serve as evidence that the injuries did not happen after the dog attack. 

Document Your Injuries

Your medical records will serve as key documentation for your case. But you should also take as many pictures as you can of the bite. It also helps to keep a record of your symptoms and recovery process for reference.

Find Out Who the Dog’s Owner Is

Identify the dog’s owner and exchange insurance information, if possible. If the dog isn’t leashed and roaming around free, you may contact an animal control unit to get a hold of the dog. The dog may have a microchip, which can identify its owner.

Let a Personal Injury Lawyer Handle Your Case

Before speaking to the dog owner or the insurance representative, seek legal advice from an experienced lawyer. A professional attorney handling personal injury cases can help guide you through the legal process.

Why Choose Adamson Ahdoot?

At Adamson Ahdoot, you can trust us to assign you the best dog bite personal injury attorney to handle your case. Our law firm offers the intimacy and attention to detail of a boutique firm, with the resources and expertise of a larger one.

Since our team is dedicated to putting people first, we serve a diverse clientele with their injury cases and offer free consultations in English and Spanish. 

A dog bite accident is difficult to deal with, no matter how small the injury. For this reason, our lawyers are compassionate about your situation. We’ll listen and remain open to any concerns you may have, so please feel free to ask questions. 

At Adamson Ahdoot, we walk the line between assertive advocacy and unwavering support for all of our clients. We’re a full-service civil litigation firm with over 100 years of combined legal experience handling personal injury cases. Call us at (800) 310-1606 today to schedule your free consultation with a premier injury attorney.

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Our team can better advise you on your legal options once we receive any available evidence about the incident.

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