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Dog Bite Liability Laws in Northern California

By May 22, 2023January 11th, 2024No Comments

Northern California is dog country. Dogs live in thousands of households in this part of the state. The tourists who come here to enjoy our region’s natural beauty often bring their dogs along, too. And for the most part, all those canines make our human lives better.

Except when they bite someone. A dog bite can inflict severe physical and emotional injuries, especially when the victim is a child. In California, laws allow people to seek compensation from dog owners, insurance companies, and others when dogs bite them.

Here’s an overview of those laws and how an experienced Redding dog bite lawyer can handle the process of securing payment for an injured victim.

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Strict Liability for Dog Bites in Northern California

If a dog bit you while you were in Northern California, the dog’s owner probably owes you compensation. That’s because a longstanding California statute imposes strict liability on dog owners when their dogs bite humans.

In other words, dog owners owe damages to bite victims more or less automatically, so long as the bite occurred in a public place or in a private place where the victim had the right to be. Owners are liable even if their dog hadn’t previously acted viciously and even if they didn’t know about its potential viciousness.

Only a few exceptions excuse dog owners from strict liability under the statute. There’s usually no automatic liability if the bite happened while the victim was trespassing on private property.

The police also don’t face strict liability for bites a police K9 inflicts, so long as it happens during the lawful use of the dog to apprehend a criminal suspect. And individuals who assume the risk of getting bitten, like dog trainers or veterinarians, usually can’t hold the dog owner strictly liable.

Subject to those limited exceptions, dog owners in Northern California who face strict liability typically must pay for bite victims’:

  • Costs of medical treatment for the bite wound and any ensuing health problems
  • Other non-medical expenses stemming from the attack or the bite injury
  • Loss of income and job benefits from missing work while healing from a bite
  • Loss of future earning opportunities due to a bite-related disability
  • Physical pain from the bite or medical treatment
  • Emotional suffering due to the trauma of the bite
  • Scarring or disfigurement from the bite
  • Loss of quality of life

The amount of compensation you may receive from a dog owner who is strictly liable for the bite you suffered can vary depending on the severity of your injury, the circumstances of the attack, and the owner’s financial resources, among other factors. The most reliable way to find out about the potential compensation you could claim from a Northern California dog owner under the state’s strict liability statute is to consult with an experienced lawyer.

What Other Ways Can People Be Liable for Dog Bites?

Regardless of whether a dog owner faces strict liability to you for your bite injury, the law might also hold the owner or someone else liable for acting in an unreasonably dangerous (or negligent) manner that led to you getting bitten. So long as that person should have and reasonably could have kept you safe from the dog that attacked you, they may owe you damages under California law for failing to do so.

For example, the law might entitle you to claim compensation from:

  • A campground owner who failed to enforce rules about keeping the dog leashed or tied up
  • A dog sitter or dog walker who didn’t keep the dog under control
  • A dog owner who encouraged their dog to maul you while you were unintentionally trespassing on their land
  • A police officer whose use of a K9 against you constituted excessive force

If someone has a liability to you because of their wrongful choices or actions, you can claim the same sorts of compensation from them as from a strictly liable dog owner. You may also, in some cases, seek punitive damages to punish their reckless or intentional failure to keep you safe. As mentioned above, speaking with an experienced attorney constitutes the most reliable way to learn about who might owe you compensation for such misconduct.

Local Dog Ordinance Violations as Basis for Liability

Many Northern California towns, including Chico, and Redding, have passed local ordinances that govern dog ownership and handling. The purpose of those laws is to maintain the health, safety, and well-being of local dogs and the people who come in contact with them. They commonly require owners to keep dogs leashed in public places, to license and vaccinate dogs, and to take extra measures to control dogs known to be vicious. Owners who violate local dog ordinances face fines and may have their dogs taken from them.

A violation of a health and safety-related dog ordinance leading to a bite injury can also amount to something close to strict liability for the violator. Under California law, a lawyer for a dog bite victim can often point to a code violation as proof that a person acted negligently in owning or handling a dog. The violation, in other words, can essentially prove the case for holding the negligent party financially liable to the bite victim.

That’s why it’s important to tell a lawyer right away about the circumstances of the dog attack that harmed you. A skilled Northern California dog bite injury lawyer can review what happened and identify any potential violations of local law that could assist in proving your case for monetary damages.

What to Do After a Northern California Dog Bite Happens

Redding Dog Bite attorney

The actions you take after getting bitten by a dog in Northern California can affect your ability to receive compensation from the owner or another party. Connecting with an experienced dog bite lawyer immediately is the safest way to keep your rights protected. Until then, you can also help yourself by following these simple tips.

Get Medical Care for Any Dog Bite

Always treat a dog bite as a potentially dangerous trauma and seek medical attention for it immediately. Go to your local hospital emergency room or the nearest urgent care clinic right away.

A doctor can examine and treat you for common bite-related dangers like:

  • Skin punctures or cuts
  • Bleeding
  • Broken bones
  • Soft tissue damage (ligaments, tendons, and muscles)
  • Nerve damage
  • Facial injuries and eye damage
  • Infection, including rabies
  • Wounds that may cause scars or disfigurement

Importantly, you should never assume that the dog that bit you has been adequately vaccinated, even if the dog has tags. Going to the doctor protects you against potentially deadly infections from illnesses that can be transmitted in a dog’s saliva.

In addition to safeguarding your health, seeking medical care after a dog bite also protects you legally. An experienced lawyer can use the records of your medical care to prove your case for damages against a dog owner or other liable party. Those records can also prove to insurance companies and defense lawyers that you took reasonable precautions to ensure that your injuries did not get worse, which can be essential to demonstrate if you want to receive maximum compensation.

Report the Dog Bite to Local Authorities

The law generally requires you to report any dog bite to local animal control authorities. It alerts the authorities to a potentially dangerous animal in the community’s midst. It can protect others from bites by the same dog. And it enhances your chances of learning the dog’s vaccination history and identifying the owner or another party who may have liability to you.

Reporting the bite will not automatically lead to the dog being harmed. Authorities may want to quarantine it for observation to make sure it isn’t rabid. But the authorities generally cannot put a dog down without granting the owner notice and a hearing on whether the dog poses an unreasonable danger to others.

Notifying local authorities of the bite also protects you legally. It creates a record of the bite that has occurred. And it serves to demonstrate that you took the bite seriously enough to alert others to it, which can assist in proving your case for damages against an owner or another party.

Beware of Quick Settlement Offers

Dog owners and others who face potential liability for a bite, including insurance companies, may try to take proactive steps to limit their financial exposure to you. One tactic they may employ involves offering you a quick settlement of your claim—sometimes even before you’ve hired a lawyer or called an insurer.

Beware. What may seem like a generous and welcome offer to pay you damages could represent a sly attempt to get you to give up your rights for a fraction of their true value.

Quick settlement offers made directly to dog bite victims rarely, if ever, pay you the full amount of compensation you have the right to receive. And they come with conditions. Accepting that money requires giving up your rights to sue for more in the future. You could end up not having enough to pay your medical bills and recover from the trauma of a dog bite.

Instead of entertaining a quick settlement offer after a dog bites you, leave the negotiation of your claim to a skilled local dog bite injury lawyer. A lawyer can usually get you far more in compensation than the initial amount a dog owner or insurance company offers to pay.

How Can an Experienced Dog Bite Lawyer Help You?

A dog bite lawyer can handle every aspect of the process of getting you money to pay for a dog bite injury. You have enough on your plate to worry about after a dog bites you or someone you love. Handing your case over to a skilled lawyer opens up the time and space you need to focus on healing and recovery.

What a lawyer might do for you can vary widely depending on the needs of your case.

But an experienced dog bite injury attorney may:

  • Investigate the dog bite to determine exactly what happened and to identify all parties who may have liability to you.
  • Review insurance policies to assess whether and for what amount they cover your damages.
  • Handle all interactions with insurance companies on your behalf.
  • Track down the identity of a dog’s owner and evaluate the dog’s vaccination history.
  • Gather evidence to prove liability against as many parties as possible.
  • Prepare and file lawsuits and insurance claims seeking monetary damages for your dog bite injury.
  • Negotiate settlements of your claims when possible.
  • Advise you about whether to accept or reject a settlement offer.
  • Take your case to trial.
  • Chase down the money owed to you from a settlement, judgment, or jury award.

Dog bite attorneys routinely provide these and similar services on a contingent fee basis. You don’t need to worry about paying a lawyer upfront before they’ll start handling your case. Attorneys who work on contingency only get paid if they win for you.

Contact a Northern California Dog Bite Injury Lawyer Today

Multiple liabilities laws may apply to your Northern California dog bite case. In a free case evaluation, an experienced dog bite injury lawyer can review your circumstances and give you an initial assessment of your options. You’ll never have to pay for that evaluation, even if you decide not to hire the attorney you spoke with.

Just don’t wait to seek the legal help you need after you or someone close to you gets bitten by an aggressive dog. Short deadlines may apply to your dog bite injury case, and if you miss them, you could lose your rights to compensation altogether. To learn more about your options for seeking compensation, contact an experienced Northern California dog bite injury lawyer today.

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