BEWARE OF DOG LIABIILTY

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Dog Law ExpertsI often run on the Oso Creek trail in Mission Viejo. While running, I’ve encountered countless friendly, well behaved off-leash dogs. Thus far, I have been fortunate to not come across any unfriendly dogs on my runs; however, I have heard plenty of stories from clients who have been the victims of unprovoked dog attacks. Just last week, my mother-in-law, a total dog lover, fell victim to an unexpected, unprovoked dog attack in the streets of Manhattan Beach.

If dog owners are going to trust their dogs enough to let the dogs off leash, then they must do so with caution. California is tough on dog owners for dog related injuries. California Civil Code Sec. 3342, commonly known as the Dog Bite Statute, holds dog owners responsible for any dog bite, no matter how carefully they guard or restrain their dog. The law makes the owner strictly liable for the harm caused, even if the owner had no prior reason to suspect that the dog would bite or attack another person.

The Dog Bite Statute covers a broader range of injuries. For example, a dog can trip a child or an elderly person, knock over a bicyclist, or run into the street and cause a car crash. Under such circumstances a dog owner may be found liable for injuries caused by their dog.

Can a dog owner be liable if the dog did not draw blood?

Yes. It is not necessary for a bite/attack to draw blood. Furthermore, the dog owner could be subject to claims for emotional distress and anxiety.

Can a dog owner be liable for biting the veterinarian?

Probably not. A veterinarian or a veterinary assistant who accepts employment for the medical treatment of a dog, aware of the risk that any dog, regardless of its previous nature, might bite while being treated, has assumed this risk as part of his or her occupation. If the dog owner is aware of the dog’s propensity to bite, it would probably be a good idea to let the vet know.

Can a dog owner be liable if the dog was protecting its own home?

Yes. The Dog Bite Law protects people that are lawfully upon the private property of the owner. This includes, the mailman, the gardener, the pool boy, girl scouts selling cookies, or other solicitors that might knock on your door. So, unless the dog is attacking a burglar in the middle of the night, the owner will likely be responsible for the injuries caused.

Will homeowner’s insurance cover dog bites?

Maybe. According to the Insurance Information Institute, dog bites and attacks account for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claims paid out. Homeowners and renters insurance policies typically cover dog bite liability legal expenses, up to the liability limits (typically $100,000 to $300,000). If the claim exceeds the limit, the dog owner is responsible for all damages above that amount. Some insurance companies will not insure homeowners who own certain breeds of dogs categorized as dangerous, such as pit bulls. Others decide on a case-by-case basis, depending on whether an individual dog, regardless of its breed has been deemed vicious. Therefore, if you own a dog, it is important to contact your insurance company to make sure they are on notice of the dog and confirm they will cover dog related injury claims.

For more information regarding dog attacks, contact Gokal Law at 949-753-9100.

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