Dog Bites 101: When Fido Turns from Friend to Foe, What Does the Law Say?

Throughout history, dogs have had the nickname “man’s best friend.” They have been branded with the stereotyped characteristics of loyalty, bravery, courage, and kindness. But not all dogs share those traits, and even those that do can demonstrate them in ways that are a danger to others.

Dog bites, even from “friendly” dogs, can cause serious injury. Any dog can react aggressively when they feel threatened or are in pain. Sometimes irresponsible pet owners even groom their canines to exhibit aggressive behavior naturally, making these animals particularly capable of biting without much provocation.

When owners don’t spay or neuter their dogs, socialize them with aggressive animals or don’t socialize them at all, or abuse and neglect them, it’s a recipe for disaster. No one plans on being involved in an altercation with an aggressive dog, but when it happens, you need to know which side of the law backs you up and what steps you need to take to protect yourself.

California has recently been named the top state in the entire country for dog bite injuries. Personal injury attorneys are often flooded with phone calls from victims of dog bites. Whether you were bitten by your neighbor’s, best friend’s, family member’s, or a complete stranger’s dog, here is everything you need to know about the law and dog bite cases.

California’s Laws on Dog Bites – Who is Liable?

With over 4.5 million dog bite claims filed annually across the United States, it’s mandatory that there is a procedure in place for determining who is at fault for an aggressive dog’s damages. Almost 15% of dog bite claims take place in California alone – a huge percentage when you consider there are 49 other states that are covered in that number.

The average payout for dog bite lawsuits can be in the tens of thousands of dollars. For this reason, many insurance companies have refused to cover homeowners who own dogs that show up on their “aggressive dog” list. This list changes depending on the insurance company and is often contested by those who believe that a dog’s breed does not automatically make it aggressive, but the fact is that this procedural safeguard happens.

Because the dog owner can be held liable for the victim’s injuries, insurance companies want to avoid insuring homeowners with dogs that are considered to be naturally aggressive. This is becoming more common as dog bite statistics increase and are analyzed by these companies.

But if a dog has bitten you or your loved one, you need someone to advocate for you and fight for your rights. Medical expenses from dog bite injuries can add up and the fear and adrenaline that comes with an unexpected dog bite can lead to mental anguish and stress.

California law dictates that the dog’s owner is liable for any injuries that occur because of their dog’s bite. There are occasional exceptions, but these are rare. Whether the dog bit someone on the homeowner’s property or in public, the owner is liable – unless the victim was an uninvited trespasser onto private property, in which case there may be an exception.

Occasionally a claim comes across an attorney’s desk in which the dog was being attended to by a dog walker or other dog handler. In this case, it’s common to expect the person controlling the dog to take responsibility, but unless they can be proven to have antagonized the situation and ultimately caused the dog to bite the other person, the homeowner is still liable.

There are a few exceptions to the homeowner’s liability law. These exceptions include when someone is trespassing on someone else’s property and is bitten by their dog. However, the victim could be allowed at least some compensation, depending on how the homeowner set up preventative measures to avoid dog bites. If the owner trained their dog to act aggressively or didn’t have a fence or other barrier up, they could still be held partially liable.

Laws regarding how the dog in question is treated are often brought up, too. California only considers a dog to be potentially dangerous if they have attacked a human (or an animal) twice within three years or if they bite a human and cause at least minor injuries. If a dog is determined to be potentially dangerous, the homeowner must keep the dog indoors or locked behind a secure fence at all times.

Dogs that severely or fatally injure a human are classified as vicious. A hearing is then made before a judge, who will determine if the dog should be sent to animal control and euthanized.

What to Do if You Were Bitten by a Dog

In most circumstances, dog attacks are unexpected and often scary. Even the most minor of dog bites can end up dangerous and should be followed up as serious. Knowing what to do after a dog bite occurs can speed up your recovery. Follow these 6 steps if you or someone you love has been the victim of a dog bite.

  1. Find immediate medical assistance. Call or head straight for emergency services. You should take your health seriously, and a dog bite can have devastating consequences even if it appears to be minor at first. If you are bleeding, you should try to stop the bleeding yourself after you have called for help. If you can, have someone drive you to the nearest hospital. You can file a police report there. In many states, dog bites have to be reported if they caused an injury.


  1. Dog bites are not always cut and dried. Knowing what bit you sounds like it should be obvious, right? But sometimes the animal comes out of nowhere and leaves just as quickly. If you can determine which animal bit you, you may be able to track down the owner. This is important for more than just liability reasons. If a dog has not had their rabies shots and other vaccinations recently, this could impact your health care and healing.


  1. Gather evidence. If you are physically capable, while you are waiting for medical treatment try to gather as much information as you can. See if anyone was a witness to the bite and write down or store their name, address, and phone number. Write down as much information as you can remember, including the description of the dog if it ran off. Pictures of your injury, the animal that bit you, and anything at the scene may be helpful later.


  1. Follow doctor’s orders. Dog bites can quickly become infected due to the amount of bacteria in a dog’s mouth. Your wound should be cleaned carefully and thoroughly. When you are discharged, be sure you follow the doctor’s orders. Medication should be taken as directed. If there is any sign of infection or other symptoms occur, follow up with your primary care physician or return to the hospital.


  1. Get the homeowner’s insurance info. Most homeowners have insurance that will step in to cover your medical bills if their dog bites you. The homeowner should give you the information when you ask, but if they don’t, you may need to have your attorney get this information for you instead.


  1. Talk to an attorney. Before you call the insurance company, call Hershey Law and schedule a free consultation to find out what rights you have. Insurance companies are notorious for skewing the information you give them into their favor. They want to limit their liability as much as possible and if they can get you to admit to at least partial fault – even if you don’t realize that is what you are doing – then they can reduce or refuse your expenses. Only talk to the insurance company after you know what to expect, and even then, your attorney can speak on your behalf instead.

Following these 6 steps after a dog bite can significantly increase your chances of getting compensation for your injuries and having your medical expenses covered for you.

Call Hershey Law for Your Dog Bite Injuries

Whether you were bitten by a tiny chihuahua, a huge Great Dane, or anything in between, the injuries are the same. Some will be minor with very little injuries that resolve quickly and others can result in serious wounds that take a long time to heal and leave permanent residues.

Not everyone wants to pursue a dog bite claim, worried that they may put the dog in danger, but unless the canine is a habitual offender, it’s a simple matter of reminding the owners to take precaution, monitoring the dog, and letting the responsible party take liability.

If you or your loved one were a victim of a dog bite, call Hershey Law today for your free consultation. Let us explain your rights and help you get the compensation that you deserve.