Help Is Available After A Dog Bite Injury

All dogs can be potentially dangerous, but some dogs are more dangerous and vicious than others. Many dogs can be considerably stronger and larger than a person of average size. Training, socialization and proper care can make an impact, but some dogs are specifically bred by years of human selection to be more aggressive. Dog bites and attacks can be mentally traumatic, physically life-changing experiences, and they account for thousands of emergency room visits each year.

Dog owners, business owners, dog spas and property owners have a duty to protect adults and children from vicious dogs in neighborhoods and especially in public parks. At The Sexton Law Firm, we hold these people accountable for injuries.

Often, folks are hesitant to make personal injury claims after suffering dog bites or dog attacks because they do not want to sue a neighbor or family member who owned the dangerous dog. Remember that homeowners insurance or business insurance may be available to compensate the injured victim. We understand this may be difficult, but we will work with you to make the case go as smoothly as possible inside and outside.

If you or a loved one is a victim of a dog attack, please contact The Sexton Law Firm for assistance with your claim. To schedule a free consultation with a lawyer, call our Chula Vista office at 619-678-1833.

What am I entitled to if I have suffered permanent physical damage from a dog attack?

Dog attacks are very interesting. The dog attacks that we see here at The Sexton Law Firm, as far as clients that come our way, are generally dog attacks from larger dogs. The vast majority of dog bites come from smaller dogs, poodles, cocker spaniels, chihuahuas, all the little dogs. Fortunately, when those smaller dogs bite or nip somebody, the damages are not that great. They usually just break the skin a little bit and they resolve without any problems.

But, the bigger dogs, the rottweilers, the German shepherds, the pit bulls, when those types of dogs bite, they usually cause very serious physical damage. Sometimes, if it is in the facial area, we have seen injuries to noses, ears, lips, cheeks; all those places generally bear the brunt of a large dog attack. Injuries on the leg could be a bite where a little bit of flesh is lost, but that is not as significant as in the facial area. Sometimes the hands can result in more serious damage from a dog bite attack. Usually, the person is trying to ward off the dog that is attacking them.

As far as the permanent physical damage from a dog bite, that is sort of a gray area. It is very subjective as far as pain and suffering, disfigurement. It just sort of depends on the amount of disfigurement, if any, and what types of monetary damages are appropriate for something affecting someone's face or hands. If you are a model or a concert pianist, then the damages could definitely be higher because those types of people depend on their hands and their face for their livelihood. They could lose money from not being able to do the modeling or performing the piano playing or whatever it might be. It just sort of depends on a case-to-case basis. Generally, the damages from a dog attack are the same as any other injury-type accident. You get your medical bills paid, lost wages, pain and suffering, and potentially loss of future income.

If a victim had emotional trauma due to the attack, can they claim that as an injury?

Yes, if it can be documented and proved. We had a couple of cases where after being attacked by a dog, the person becomes terrified of dogs; even a little dog. It might have been a big dog that attacked them, but even a chihuahua causes them to experience panic attacks, or just a dog barking can cause them to experience some type of anxiety. That is a real type of damage, too. That has to be documented by a psychiatrist or a psychologist in that type of scenario.

It is easy enough for a person to say, "Oh, I'm mentally traumatized from this dog attack," but it is another thing to actually go see a physician about it and be prescribed medication for it. That is the proof that you would need for something like that or else anyone could say that, "Oh, I'm traumatized from this attack." When you are attacked by a dog, it is normal to have experienced some type of trauma and fear, but sometimes it goes beyond that — where you are having nightmares, where you are having panic attacks. We had a case where a woman was terrified even just hearing a dog bark. It just reminded her and she relived that attack. So, if those things are documented by going to see a physician, then yes, you can recover for those types of bills incurred as well as the pain and suffering for those types of experiences.

In California, it is very interesting. Years and years ago, the saying was, "Every dog was entitled to one free bite." That is not the case anymore. Basically, the standard now is strict liability. If you are the owner of a dog and your dog bites someone, you are strictly liable. You do not have to prove negligence. The dog is not entitled to that one free bite, meaning that, "Oh we didn't know he was a biting dog or a dangerous dog, so we shouldn't be held responsible because this is the first time he's bitten anybody." That is what the law used to be years and years ago. Now, if you are the owner of a dog, no matter what kind of dog, little dog, big dog, and your dog bites somebody, you are strictly liable. There is no negligence involved. You do not have to prove the dog was a vicious dog or a dog that had a propensity for biting. If your dog bites somebody, you are on the hook. You are liable.

Now, there are other cases where the dog does not bite somebody but jumps up against somebody and causes the person to fall over and break their leg, let's say. In that case, you are not strictly liable. You have to show that the dog was prone to being excitable and jumping up on people all the time. The owner did not restrain the dog properly and that caused an injury. That goes back to straight negligence. Was the owner not using reasonable care in leashing his dog, or preventing the dog from jumping on somebody and knocking them down? That is the difference. If the dog bites somebody, they are strictly liable. In other types of incidents involving a dog, you have to show the owner's negligence. We see some cases that are sort of crossover, combined cases where if you are the owner of the dog, you live in an apartment and your dog bites somebody, the owner of the dog who lives in the apartment is obviously strictly liable.

Nevertheless, you can also go after the person who owns the apartment building on a theory that this was a bad dog. He had tried to bite people before or had bitten people before. He was a vicious type of dog, always lunging for people, and the apartment building owner knew that and still allowed the dog to reside there, in that apartment. Just because you have a dog does not necessarily mean the apartment owner is going to allow you to live there. They have to have the permission of the apartment building owner to allow a dog to live with you in the apartment. In that case, you can go after the dog's owner under a strict liability, as well as the owner of the apartment building under a negligence theory.

As far as contacting an attorney, dog bite cases require some investigation. The vast majority of the dog bite cases happen in a home, and usually there is homeowners insurance to cover that, which is a good thing. That is a strict liability-type case. You are the owner of a home and you have homeowners insurance. If your dog bites somebody, you are basically on the hook for that, as I mentioned previously. But other times it is not as clear cut, like in the apartment building situation. Some people might not think or even realize that they can go after the owner of the apartment building under the theory of negligence to recover for their injuries. The vast majority of the time the apartment renter, the owner of the dog, does not have renters insurance that covers dog bites, and has very little funds of his own. Sometimes, there is very little to go after, monetarywise, against the owner of the dog that lives in an apartment.

They just do not have anything to go after: no insurance, no assets. The only other option is to go against the owner of the apartment building for harboring a dog that has a propensity for biting or is a known vicious dog. A lot of people would not realize that as far as a recovery. Most of the time people do not know where to go for this type of treatment. It could be a psychological issue. They could be having panic attacks. They might need a good plastic surgeon. We can help and refer people to those professionals to help them overcome their problems, their injuries and sometimes the mental injuries, too. We know the people to put them in contact with to help them improve and get better or as good as they can get.