Man's best friend is not always friendly to all of us. Some of the most devastating injuries are the result of one man's "best friend" attacking an innocent neighbor or passerby, simply because the dog either misunderstood the situation or has not been properly trained or treated by its owner. Nevertheless, an innocent individual has been physically injured and emotionally traumatized by what first anticipated to be a friendly creature.
California has not yet recognized attacks by dogs to be treated as cases of "strict liability" despite the breed of animal that has attacked. The injured person must still establish the liability of the owner of the dog. When children are involved the trauma is often more harmful than the physical injury. It is important to have an experienced and skilled attorney on your side to secure the most compensation in cases involving dog attacks.
Every year, thousands of Americans are bitten by animals -- most often dogs. In many cases, a person bitten by an animal may have a legal right to recover damages from the animal's owner or another responsible party.
The first thing you should do if you are bitten by an animal is to seek medical attention immediately. If you are not treated, an animal bite can cause serious injury, infection, and even death if the animal was diseased. Once you have been medically evaluated, you should also consider consulting a lawyer with experience in animal bite cases. An attorney will be able to tell you whether you have a legal claim, and what damages you may be able to recover.
At a minimum, you should provide the name and phone number of the animal's owner. If you don't have this information, a neighbor or a witness might be able to provide it to you. Also, if there were witnesses, you should get their names and contact information as well.
In deciding who is responsible for an animal bite, the first thing to determine is: who is the owner of the animal? Some states impose what is known as "strict liability" upon animal owners whose animals bite or attack others. Under the theory of strict liability, an owner is legally responsible ("liable") for an animal bite, regardless of whether the owner did anything wrong with respect to protecting others from attack. Under this theory, even if the owner had no reason to know that his or her animal was dangerous, if the animal bit someone, the owner would still be liable. In other states, the owner of an animal can be held liable for the injuries it inflicts, provided that the owner knew (or had reason to know) that the animal had "dangerous propensities." In other words, if an animal owner knows that his or her animal is dangerous and could cause injury to a person, the animal owner can be held liable for the animal's harmful actions.
Animal owners are not the only people who can be held responsible for animal bites. Here are a few common scenarios where someone other than the animal's owner could be held liable for an animal bite:
- Animal Keepers: Anyone who is responsible for the care or custody of an animal may be considered an owner or keeper and can be held responsible for an animal bite. Examples include kennels, a pound, or an animal sitter.
- Parents of Minors: Even if a person under 18 years of age owns the animal at issue, in many states an injured person can bring a legal claim against the minor's parents, even if the parents had no direct involvement with the animal.
- Property Owners: A property owner can be liable for injuries caused by an animal that the property owner allowed onto his or her property.
- Landlords: If an apartment landlord knew (or should have known) that a tenant owned a dangerous animal, the landlord may also be liable for animal bite injuries.
Depending on the seriousness of injuries resulting from an animal attack, you may be entitled to recover for:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Property damage.
In some instances, you may also be entitled to punitive damages, which are awarded to punish someone for his or her behavior. To justify an award of punitive damages, the wrongdoer's conduct usually must be more than negligent, such as reckless or intentional conduct. For example, if a dog owner knew his dog was very dangerous, yet repeatedly allowed the dog to run free near a school, and the dog eventually attacked a child, a jury could conclude that punitive damages were appropriate.
If an animal has bitten you or a loved one, you may be entitled to recover damages for any injuries that resulted. Determining your legal rights can be complicated, and it may be unclear who to bring a claim against, and to what sort of damages you are entitled.
If you or a loved one has been bitten by an animal, contact our office today at (415) 395-9000