Sacramento Dog Bite Attorney

For many families throughout the United States dogs bring much companionship, pleasure and joy. Unfortunately, they are still animals and thousands of people are bitten, mauled or attacked by a dog each year.

Dog bites can cause serious injuries, including permanent scarring, disfigurement, psychological trauma and sometimes death. While, rabies is one of the most feared complications arising from an animal bite, skin infections are more common.

From friendly

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To vicious in an instant.

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I’m Ed Smith, Sacramento Dogbite attorney; since 1982, since 1982, and in the pages following, I’ll explain more of the essential facts about dog bites and how I might help you. I have handled hundreds of dogbite cases throughout California and you can find out more about our firm on Yelp or on Avvo (an attorney rating service). Call me anytime at 916=921-6400 in Sacramento or 800-404-5400 Elsewhere for free, friendly advice.

Table of Contents

Statistics

4.7 million Americans a year are bitten by dogs.  One in five dog bites results in injuries serious enough for medical attention.

More than 29,000 reconstructive surgeries related to dog bites are performed annually. 19 dog breeds contributed to 88 deaths in a recent 3-year period.  Pit bulls accounted for 59%, followed by rottweilers with 14%.

Pit bulls commit the vast majority of off-property attacks that result in death.

Biters are 6.2 times as likely to be male than female and  Biters are 2.6 times as likely to be intact than neutered,  Biters are 2.8 times as likely to be chained as unchained. 42% of dog bites in 2001 occurred among children aged 14 years and younger; injury rates were highest among children aged 5-9 years and were significantly higher for boys.

The average cost of a dog bite-related hospital stay was $18,200, approximately 50 percent higher than the average injury-related hospital stay.  There were 4 times as many dog bite-related  Emergency room visits visits and 3 times as many hospital stays  in rural areas than in urban areas. It’s unusual, but most serious dog bites do occur in rural areas rather than big city’s.

What to Do After A Dogbite

If you or a loved one have been bitten by a dog, there are important steps to take to protect yourself:

  1. Identify the  owner of the  dog. One of the most important steps is to find out who owns the dog and/or  where the dog lives and if the dogs  shots are up to date.
  2. Obtain Medical Treatment. The first thing you should do after a dog bite is get medical care. The risk of infection from a dog bite is common.
  3. Report the dog bite to the City of Sacramento Animal Care Services or other local animal control.   File a bite report with your local city or county animal control or Sherriff’s  department even if your injury is minor.
  4. Take pictures of your injuries. Photograph your injuries, wounds and bruises.
  5. Contact a California dog bite attorney at the Law Offices of Edward A. Smith for a free consultation.

Which Dogs are the Likely Biters

PIT BULLS

A Pit Bull or Pit Bull mix is a dog breed that includes any combination of several breeds including Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers (APBT) or, American Bullie. Pit Bulls are the most dangerous dogs in the United States and are responsible for more than half of fatal attacks.

Pit Bulls aggressive behavior and powerful jaws make the breed more dangerous than any other breed. It is well documented that Pit Bulls pose a substantial danger due to their selective breeding for dog fighting. Unlike other dog breeds, pit bulls fail to communicate intention prior to an attack (surprise attacks) and possess a lethal bite style (hold and shake) and a ruinous manner of attack (gameness).

I meet many people who have had pit bulls for years that were very friendly, well trained and loved family pets. Over the years, however, I’ve seen many of these same animals suddenly revert and literally rip small children and even adults apart.  I would never under any circumstance recommend a family with children own a pit bull or rottweiler.

Above is a hard to view interview of a child that was viciously attacked by a Pit Bull.

The other really dangerous breeds in this country are:

Rottweilers

German Shepherds

Bull Mastiffs

Other frequent biting breeds are Huskies, Malumutes, Chow Chow, Boxers, Dpbermans, Wolf-dog hybrids, Great Danes and Saint Bernards.

Why Bites Occur

It is important to know why dog bites happen in order to help avoid them from happening at all. The following are some of the most common reasons a dog bites:

1. Possessiveness

This type of aggression is directed towards people or other animals when a dog is protecting it’s property whether that is it’s home, owner, a bone, toy or food.

2. Fear

Dogs can bite when they are scared or have been startled. If approached too quickly by someone or a stranger, a dog can bite suddenly and without warning if it feels threatened.

3. Pain

If a dog isn’t feeling well or is in pain it likely wants to be left alone. A dog in pain can cause even the friendliest of dogs to become snippy or bite.

4. Maternal Instincts

If a female dog has puppies, it’s maternal instinct will become apparent and she will want to protect them.

5. Prey Driven Instincts

This is when a dog with a strong prey drive acts on it’s urges in an unacceptable manner. 

Prey dog behaviors are those such as chasing, pouncing, pulling, shaking and carrying. Typically, this type of aggression gets triggered when the dog sees someone jogging, cycling or running.

PREVENTING DOG ATTACKS

Train and socialize your pet. Taking care of dogs is a responsibility that cannot be ignored.

Report a threatening, loose or stray dog in your neighborhood to your city or county animal control department.

Teach children the following basic safety tips: Do not approach an unfamiliar dog. Always ask an adult before you pet a dog. Do not pet a dog without allowing it to see and sniff you first. Do not play with a dog unless supervised by an adult. Remain still when approached by an unfamiliar dog. Do not disturb a dog that is sleeping or eating. Do not tease a dog. Do not run from a dog or scream. If knocked over by a dog, roll into a ball and be still. Immediately report stray dogs or dogs displaying unusual behavior to an adult. Avoid direct eye contact with a dog that is not on a leash. If bitten, immediately report the bite to an adult.

Who is at Risk?

Children are the most common victims of serious dog bites causing injury. Senior Citizen’s are also more at risk.

Males are bitten much more than females.

People with dogs in their homes creates a higher risk of a person getting bitten.  Almost one half of all dog bites involve an animal owned by the victim’s family or neighbors.

What is California law on Dog Bites?

Dog’s in California are required to be vaccinated (Health and Safety Code 1920, but many are not).

A bite victim who has to submit to rabies treatment can base a cause of action on the fact that the attacking dog was over four months old when it bit plaintiff and had not been vaccinated against rabies. Davis v. Gaschler (1992) 11 Cal.App.4th 1392, 1399-1400.

The main statute specifying responsibility for dogbites in California is set out below:

Civil Code section 3342:

(a) The owner of any dog is liable for the damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness.

There are exceptions such as if someone were trespassing ot provoking the dog, but most of the time, if a dog bites, the owner is responsible for all damages.

Sacramento County Code

The Sacramento County (and other County) Codes has other requirements that bear on the responsibility for dogs and dogbites. For example, in Sacramento County dogs must almost always be on leashes. If a dog is not on a leash and bites someone, that is usually negligence per se under this code. In every case, the attorney should check on the County Codes where the dogbite occurred because they may impose greater responsibility than does the California Civil Code above.

Landlord Liability

A landlord can be held liable when a dog belonging to a tenant bites a person, if the landlord or his representatives possessed actual knowledge of the dogís viciousness prior to the attack, and could have removed the dog before it injured the victim. Uccello v. Laudenslayer (1975) 44 Cal.App.3d 504.

Note that just because a bite occurred by a dog in a rented property or apartment, there is no strict liability as there is in Civil Code Section 3342 Above.

The landlord must have had actual notice that the dog was vicious and failed to take action in order to hold him responsible. There must be knowledge, and a time period where the landlord could have taken action to remove the dog from the premises even if he needed to evict the tenant.

A commercial landlord,  for example,  the landlord of a store owner has a duty to inspect his property and remove dangerous conditions.  In  In Portillo v. Aiassa (1994) 27 Cal.App.4th 1128, a commercial store’s landlord was held responsible when there was a bite by a guard dog in a liquor store. It was apparent, such a dog could injure an innocent visitor to the store.

Liability of Day Care Centers

Owner’s of Day Care Centers often try to have the parent sign a release of liability if the dog bites a child in the day care center. California Law does not recognize such releases as valid.

Liability for injuries inflicted in ways other than a bite (Jumping or playing)

If a dog has been known by the owner to jump on people or be overly playful, someone who  is injured in this fashion can usually recover for their injuries. In a recent case, our offices recovered a $500,000 policy limit when our elderly client was injured in this way.

Defenses of owner

If the person was bitten because he or she provoked the dog that may be a defense to a dogbite action. However, as  a matter of law, a child under 5 in California cannot be prevented from a recovery because of a provocation.

Types of Injuries

Dog bites  sometime results in disfigurement, infections and /or scars. Dogs often target the face, an area that is susceptible to scarring and disfigurement. They also target the genital area on boys who are stooped low near or over the dog.

Scarring

This is very common as a result of dogbites especially if there are stitches. Bites and scarring of the face are common. It’s difficult to tell whether a scar will heal. Some bites look very bad at first, but look a lot better after 6 months and nay not need further treatment. On the other hand, severe bites and scarring may not improve much. Especially if the bite is on the face or other prominent area, a plastic surgeon should be consulted to evaluate the scar.

Plastic surgeons typically want to wait 6 months to see how the scar heals before they do an evaluation.

Costs for improving the costs of scars can be as little as $3,000 or $4,000 to Hundreds of Thousands of dollars depending on the severity of the bite. Its important to realize that if plastic surgery can improve the look of the scar (s) then the cost of such surgery is recoverable as damages (even if the child later decides to postpone or never have the surgery).

Scarring injuries to children, especially facial scars can h ave a profound impact and subject the child  to teasing and cruelty from other children. Children who have sustained scarring to the face, neck, or body may require a number of cosmetic procedures over a course of many years.

Sometimes children develop keloid scars which are very rough as well as painful.

Coping with scarring and disfigurement can be a long and challenging recovery for not only the victim, but the entire family. As the image of onself changes, it affects the way a person behaves and relates to others. Emotional trauma, loss of self-esteem and social challenges are difficult to overcome.

It is the practice of our office to consult with psychologists who are expert in the long term emotional effects of  scarring on all serious bite cases.

PTSD

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) A victim of a dog bite may suffer from post traumatic stress for months or years after the attack. A person might feel anxious, depressed, agitated, nervous, withdrawn, fearful and even have nightmares for some time after a dog bite. Treatment from a professional psychologist can assist the victim by providing therapy and/or solutions for overcoming these emotional injuries. Children often silently carry a heavy emotional burden after a dog bite and are particularly susceptible to post traumatic stress disorder. Children notice that anytime the dog bite attack is mentioned, their parents express guilt or sadness. Consequently, these children bury their emotions. That combination can lead to post traumatic stress disorder. Signs and symptoms of PTSD to be on the look out for in children include:

  • Nightmares
  • Excessive anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Decreased school performance
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Reduced creativity
  • Withdrawal
  • Altered appetite
  • Depression
  • Pronounced startle responses
  • Behavior problems

Any one of these can impede the expected social, academic, and emotional growth of a child.

Rabies Shots

If the animal cannot be identified, caught and tested, it is necessary for the bite victim to undergo a series of 6 shots (1 human immunoglobulin and 5 rabies vaccine shots) over a period of 28 days. Treatment must be started early (before rabies symptoms appear) or the disease will cause death.

Head or Brain Injuries

These injuries can occur if the dog bites the head of the victim, or if the victim hits the head on a hard object while trying to fend off the attack. Head injuries can be as simple as a bump on the head or as serious as a fractured skull or brain injury causing permanent disability.

Broken Bones and Crush Injuries

When a dog attacks, broken bones can result if the victim is knocked to the ground or falls when fleeing the attacking dog. The powerful jaws of some dogs can cause bone-crushing injuries even when the skin is not broken because of clothing protection. Dog bites cause an average of 18 deaths per year in the United States.

Facial Injuries and Eye injuries occur frequently. Here is medical  study done on facial injuries in children. Many times children have facial fractures, most commonly of the nasal bone.

The larger the dog, the better the risk of a facial fracture.

Genital and Penis Injuries

Penis injuries are very frequent injuries to boys under 7 years old.

Infections from Dog bites

Many times, when children are bit, the wounds become infected.  The risks of infections increase when there is a delay in treatment.

Damages

In every case, the first question an experienced personal injury attorney looks at is insurance. Simply put, if the owner or other person responsible for the injury does not have insurance there is very little liklihood of recovery. Homwowner’s Insurance is the most common insurance to cover dogbites. Occasionally, auto insurance may apply especially if the bite occurs near or around an motor vehicle. Sometimes renter’s may have a Renter’s policy.

If there is a commercial landlord or apartment complex involved, there may be insurance coverage that applies..but it depends on the factual situation. As discussed earlier in this article, a landlord might only be responsible if the had actual knowledge that the dog was vicious.

What should you  do if you or a child  was bitten by a friend or a relative’s  dog? Many people are bitten by a dog belonging to someone they know. It is a difficult situation when you have medical bills but don’t   want to sue your friend or relative. Fortunately, a majority of dog bite injury claims are filed with the dog owner’s  homeowners or renters insurance rather than against the dog’s owner.  The insurance company  is the real party we’re going after.

Some breeds, such as Pitbulls or Rottweiler’s may be excluded from the policy. This is often the case, but we will check and verify in every case.

If there is no insurance, an injured party can still go after the owner, but there is often no way to collect unless such person has independent wealth.

WHY YOU SHOULD HIRE A DOG BITE LAWYER

There are many factors involved in properly handling a dog bite case in California. What should you  do if you or a child  was bitten by a friend or a relative’s  dog?

Victims of a dog bite may be entitled to recover past and future medical expenses, past and future lost wages , compensation for pain and suffering, , plastic surgery, counseling, and and other damages.

Time Limit to File Suit

Time Limit for suit is  2 yrs in California. This time period is usually extended however, for the child’s minority.  This is known as tolling. In some cases, however, the statute may not be tolled. So even if there’s a bite to a child, its best consult with an experienced attorney immediately.

Dog-Bite Verdicts and Settlements

Below is a list of some of the results I have obtained for our clients.

$170,000.00 Dog bite incident – Client suffered loss of leg tissue requiring a debridement of necrotic tissue.

$80,000.00 Female bitten on her calf by a Rottweiler while visiting her aunt’s  home. This case was contested by the insurance company claiming the dog was provoked when our client accidently stepped on the dog leg while it was sleeping. Our client sustained a dog bite to her calf requiring stitches. She also suffered from depression and emotional distress. The insurer’s defense of provocation did not hold up.

$50,000.00 Elderly man bitten, while in a public place, by a Labrador Retriever. A Labrador Retriever escaped from the owner’s  property and was roaming freely. Our client was driving on a nearby road when all of the sudden the dog jumped out in front of his vehicle. Our client checked to see if the dog was okay when it lurched up and bit him in the chin. Our client sustained a laceration to his lower lip requiring stitches and resulting numbness and decrease in sensation in the lower lip.

$500,000. We represented an elderly woman walking her dog, when a neighbor’s dog was off the leash and attacked her dog. She fell over and suffered a fractured hip and other serious injuries.

Sacramento Dog Bite Attorney  Edward A. Smith has over three decades of experience handling dog bite claims and lawsuits throughout  California.

Call me anytime for free, friendly advice. Sacramento 916-921-6400. Elsewhere 800-404-5400.

You can find out more about us on Yelp, Nolo, Avvo or Hg.com.