Sacramento Dog Bite Lawyer
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.The Only California Dog Bite Lawyer You Need
In this article:
- Dog Bites are Serious Injuries
- What to Do After a Dog Bite?
- Which Dogs Are the Likely Biters?
- Why Bites Occur
- Preventing Dog Attacks
- Who is at Risk?
- What is California Law on Dog Bites?
- Defenses of Dog Owners
- Types of Injuries
- Why You Should Hire a Sacramento Dog Bite Lawyer
- Time Limit to File Suit
- Dog Bite Verdicts and Settlements
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.Statistics
About 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 are 2.6 times as likely to be intact than neutered. Biters are 2.8 times as likely to be chained as unchained. About 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 four times as many dog bite-related emergency room visits and three times as many hospital stays in rural areas compared to urban areas. It’s unusual, but most serious dog bites do occur in rural areas rather than big cities.What to Do After A Dog Bite?
If you or a loved one have been bitten by a dog, there are important steps to take to protect yourself:
- 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 dog's shots are up to date.
- Obtain Medical Treatment. The first thing you should do after a dog bite is to get medical care. The risk of infection from a dog bite is common.
- 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.
- Take pictures of your injuries. Photograph your injuries, wounds, and bruises.
- Contact a California dog bite attorney at the Law Offices of Edward A. Smith for a free consultation.
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 or American Bully. 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 dogfighting. 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.
The other really dangerous breeds in this country are Rottweilers, German Shepherds, and Bull Mastiffs.
Other frequent biting breeds are Huskies, Malamutes, Chow Chow, Boxers, Dobermans, 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:
- Possessiveness - This type of aggression is directed towards people or other animals when a dog is protecting it’s property whether that is its home, owner, a bone, toy or food.
- 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.
- Pain - If a dog isn’t feeling well or is in pain it likely wants to be left alone. Pain can cause even the friendliest of dogs to become snippy or bite.
- Maternal Instincts - If a female dog has puppies, it’s maternal instinct will become apparent and she will want to protect them.
- Prey Driven Instincts - This is when a dog with a strong prey drive acts on its 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.
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 Citizens 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?
Dogs in California are required to be vaccinated 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 the plaintiff and had not been vaccinated against rabies.
The main statute specifying responsibility for dog bites in California is set out below:
- Civil Code section 3342 - 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 or provoking the dog, but most of the time, if a dog bites, the owner is responsible for all damages.
- Sacramento County Code - There is no California dog leash law that covers statewide, but the Sacramento County (and other County) Codes have other requirements that bear on the responsibility for dogs and dog bites. 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 dog bite 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 dog's viciousness prior to the attack, and could have removed the dog before it injured the victim. 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.
- Liability of Day Care Centers - Owners of Day Care Centers often tries to have the parents sign a release of liability if a dog bites a child in the daycare center. California law does not recognize such releases as valid.
- Liability for Injuries - 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 from their injuries. In a recent case, our offices recovered a $500,000 policy limit when our elderly client was injured in this way.
If the person was bitten because he or she provoked the dog, then that may be a defense to a dog bite action. However, as a matter of law, a child under 5 in California cannot be prevented from recovery because of provocation.Types of Injuries
Dog bites sometimes result 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 dog bites, 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 may 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 areas. A plastic surgeon should be consulted to evaluate the scar in these cases.
Plastic surgeons typically want to wait 6 months to see how the scar heals before they do an evaluation. Costs for improving the scars can be as little as $3,000 or $4,000 to hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on the severity of the bite. It's 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 have 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 well. As the image of oneself 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 experts in the long-term emotional effects of scarring on all serious bite cases.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) - A dog bite victim may suffer from post-traumatic stress for months or years after the dog 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 animal 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 lookout for in children include:
- Excessive anxiety
- Decreased school performance
- Sleep disturbances
- Reduced creativity
- Altered appetite
- Pronounced startle responses
- Behavior problems
Any of the above symptoms 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 - Here is a medical study of facial injuries in children. Many times children have facial fractures, most commonly of the nasal bone. The larger the dog, the higher the risk of a facial fracture.
Genital and Penis Injuries - Penis injuries are very frequent injuries to boys under 7 years old.
Infections - Many times, when children are bitten, the wounds become infected. The risks of infections increase when there is a delay in treatment.
In the following video, the Chronicle-Telegram shows a harrowing tale of how a child was viciously attacked by a dog:Damages
In every case, the first question an experienced personal injury attorney looks at is insurance. Simply put, if the owner or another person responsible for the injury does not have insurance, then there is very little likelihood of recovery. Homeowner’s Insurance is the most common insurance to cover dog bites. Occasionally, auto insurance may apply, especially if the bite occurs near or around a motor vehicle. Sometimes renter’s insurance 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 they 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 Sacramento 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 other damages.Time Limit to File Suit
Time Limit for the suit is two years 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:
- $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.
- $170,000. The client suffered the loss of leg tissue requiring a debridement of necrotic tissue.
- $80,000. The client was 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 accidentally stepped on the dog's 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. An elderly man was bitten in a public place by a Labrador Retriever. The lab escaped from the owner’s property and was roaming freely. Our client was driving on a nearby road when all of a 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 a decrease in sensation in the lower lip.
I’m Ed Smith, Sacramento dog bite attorney. I've been handling dog bite claims and lawsuits throughout California since 1982. If you or a loved one has sustained serious injuries from a dog bite incident, call me anytime for free, friendly advice at 916.921.6400 or 800.404.5400.
Editor’s Note: This page has been updated for accuracy and relevancy [cha 7.31.20]