Answers To The Most Frequently Asked Questions In Animal Bite (Dog Bite) Cases

1. Who can sue in an animal bite or knockdown case?

Any person, whether a minor or adult, who has been bitten or knocked down by an animal who has been improperly or inadequately leashed or contained can sue for injuries or death caused by an animal bite or knock-down.

2. Who can I sue?

If you were injured or a family member was injured or killed by any animal, you can always sue the person who has or should have had control of the animal. For a person to be responsible they need not be the owner of the animal. However, an owner who retains some control over the animal remains liable even if the animal is partly under the care of others.

3. Are there special protections under the law for people who are bitten by dogs?

Yes. California has a statute that holds that the "owner of a dog is liable for the damages suffered by anyone who is bitten by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the dog owner's property, regardless of the prior viciousness of the dog or the owner's knowledge of that viciousness." Thus, the owner of a dog is strictly liable for anyone who is injured or killed by a dog bite. You do not have to prove that the owner was negligent.

Although the dog bite statute does not apply to the person in possession or control of a dog, that person can still be found liable for your injuries if he or she was negligent in controlling or containing the dog.

4. Is there a law that protects me and my family if we are attacked by any animal other than a dog?

Yes. The keeper of an animal of a species that is dangerous by nature, or that the keeper knows or has reason to know has dangerous propensities or traits, is strictly liable to anyone injured as a result of those propensities or traits. This rule provides greater protection than the dog bite statute, because it applies to keepers other than owners; owners; dogs and animals other than dogs, including horses.

5. My child suffered a severe injury after being knocked down by a large dog owned by a neighbor. Can my child bring a lawsuit and recover for her injuries?

Yes. If you can establish that the dog had dangerous propensities or traits you will be able to maintain a strict liability case against the owner and will not even have to prove negligence. Further, the owner can be held responsible for negligence if you can prove that the owner failed to exercise ordinary care in controlling the dog. This can include failure to warn you and your child of the dog's dangerous traits, failing to ascertain whether the dog had a dangerous propensity, failing to restrain a dangerous dog, or engaging in conduct likely to excite the dog causing him to knock down your child.

Further, if the dog was unleashed and you were in a city with a leash law, there will be a presumption that the owner was negligent in causing your child's injuries.

6. My aunt was walking down the street when a dog ran out of the house and charged at her. My aunt attempted to run away but tripped, fell and broke her hip. The dog never touched my aunt. Is she entitled to bring a lawsuit against the dog owner?

Although this may be a difficult case to prove, your aunt should be able to bring a case if she reasonably feared for her safety and she can prove that the owner or possessor of the dog knew or should have known of the dog's propensity to attack people walking on the sidewalk and failed to act appropriately.

7. My child was bitten by a dog when he crossed through my neighbor's back yard to get to our house without being invited. Can he bring a lawsuit even though he was a trespasser?

Yes, but only if you can establish that your neighbor was negligent in leaving his dog in the back yard and that he knew or should have known that children ran through his back yard. This will still be a difficult case, and you will not have the benefit of the strict liability rules that apply to other dog bite cases since trespassers are excluded under the dog bite statute.

8. My wife was killed when a neighbor's dog mauled her to death. I have learned that my neighbor has no homeowner's insurance and is not well off, merely renting his house. He only recently bought the dog, and I have learned that he bought the dog from a large pet store chain. Can I sue the pet store chain for causing my wife's death?

Yes, if, and only if, you can prove that the store knew or should have known of the dangerous propensities of the animal and failed to warn your neighbor of the animal's dangerous traits.

9. What damages are recoverable in animal bite cases?

Plaintiff is entitled to recover damages for past and future and medical expenses, past and future wage loss, past and future pain and suffering, and if it is deemed that conduct is bad enough, punitive damages (i.e., punishment damages against the defendant). If the victim dies, his or her survivors are entitled to recover full compensation for their economic losses that result from the victim's death as well as emotional distress damages which stem from the loss of society care and comfort of the decedent. If the survivors can prove that the victim lived for a period of time between the negligent act and death, they can also bring an action for punitive damages.

10. How soon do I need to bring a case after an animal bite incident?

If you are an adult, you have two years from the date of the occurrence to bring a case except on rare occasions in which there is delayed discovery. The same rules would apply if your child was killed in an incident. If your child was injured in an animal bite incident, he or she has until the child's 19th birthday to bring an action. However, it is generally wise to not wait very long to bring a case because evidence will be lost and the case may become more difficult to prove.

11. Do I need to retain an attorney?

It is almost always a good idea to retain an attorney in an animal bite case because there usually will be some questions of comparative fault, and expert witnesses may need to be retained to reconstruct factors and help determine responsibility for
the occurrence. Plus, your likely settlement will be higher.

12. Will my animal bite case settle out of court?

Probably. Ninety to 95% of animal bite cases settle at some point before trial.

Most legal questions require complex answers. The answers provided here may not be complete or fully accurate but attempt to provide consumers with abbreviated answers. For more detailed answers to these questions, a consumer should check out other articles in this section of this website, research other legal articles and texts on the subject matter or consult with an attorney.