Residents of San Diego County should be aware that dog bite injuries have been on the rise in California this year. According to a report from CBS News, emergency department visits connected to dog bite injuries have risen by 44% over the last decade in the state. Between 2015 and 2016, dog bite injuries requiring emergency treatment have gone up by about 10%, according to an article in the Modesto Bee. Animal attacks can cause serious and sometimes fatal injuries, especially to young children. What has caused the recent rise in dog bite injuries in California? Who is liable for dog bites in our state?
Rise in Dog Attacks Leaves Experts Confused
As the Modesto Bee article underscores, local animal services employees simply are not certain what has led to the increase in dog attacks in California, particularly the sharp uptick between 2015-2016. The animals services director of Stanislaus County indicated that she “had contacted fellow animal services directors in the state, who had no observations about the data.” Local residents, according to the CBS News report, believe more dog owners are failing to properly train their dogs, which is resulting in more animal attacks across the state. But is there any data to support that conclusion? Currently, the only data we know for certain is that more dog bite injuries are happening in rural counties in California in comparison with urban counties.
We also know that California has the highest rate of homeowner insurance claims related to dog bite injuries. In 2015 alone, there were 1,684 homeowners’ insurance claims connected to animal attacks, a number that actually showed a slight decline from the 1,867 claims reported in 2014. In total last year, an article in the Insurance Journal noted that the total number of dog bite claims had declined across the country, yet certain states (such as California and New York) not only continued to show high numbers of claims, but they also had higher dollar payouts.
In 2015, California had the second-highest average cost for dog bite insurance claims at $44,983 per claim on average. Approximately 20% of all dog bite cases require medical treatment, the article emphasizes, and only a fraction of those victims actually file insurance claims. Why do so few file insurance claims? In short, in many dog bite cases, the victim either was also the owner of the dog, or the dog belonged to a family member or a close friend. As such, the victim chose not to file an insurance claim.
Getting the Facts About Dog Bites and the Law
If you want to file a dog bite lawsuit in California, you might be wondering who may be liable for your injuries. Under California 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.” This is known as “strict liability.”
What does this mean in practice? As long as you were not bitten while trespassing or otherwise illegally on property, when a dog bites, the owner is liable. You do not need to prove that the owner knew that the dog could be dangerous, and you do not need to prove that the dog had any violent tendencies. Instead, a plaintiff simply must show that she or he was lawfully on the property where she was bitten in order for the dog owner to be held accountable.
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(image courtesy of Manu Adan)