How Much Can I Sue for in a Dog Bite Case?
A dog bite can be vicious and unexpected. It can leave the victim seriously injured, physically and emotionally scarred. There are no specific limits on what a dog bite victim can claim in a lawsuit. Your lawsuit or insurance claim must be made in good faith, based on the facts and California law.
Personal injury litigation covers any civil lawsuit involving “torts” where the plaintiff suffered injuries because of the wrongful acts of another, including dog owners. Successful personal injury cases can provide compensation to victims for the harm they suffered. If you or a loved one suffered severe injuries due to a dog bite, call Callaway & Wolf at 415-541-0300.
State Law and Dog Bite Cases
California law is very helpful for dog bite victims. We have a “strict liability” dog bite law, making pet owners responsible for most bite injuries. An owner can be liable whether or not they were aware the dog could be dangerous or if it bit anyone in the past. What steps the owner took to restrain or control the dog also wouldn’t be an issue.
To establish the dog owner must compensate you, you must show you were:
- Bitten by the defendant’s dog
- In a public place or lawfully in a private place (including the dog owner’s property) when the attack happened
What You Might Recover in a Dog Bite Case
You can sue a defendant for damages which is a way to measure the harm you endured in dollars. They include:
- Medical bills
These can vary widely on the severity of the bite, where on the body it happened, and the damage caused. A bite to a child could do a lot more harm than to an adult. It can also have a greater impact if the victim is elderly or suffering from other medical issues.
These costs can include an ambulance, emergency department treatment, surgeries, prescription drugs, physical and occupational therapy. Psychological treatment to help cope with the trauma can also be covered. Plastic surgery may be needed to limit scarring and improve function. You can recover for past medical services and those reasonably expected to be needed in the future. Issues that can greatly increase these costs include infections, nerve damage, disfigurement, or an amputation.
- Lost wages and benefits
If the victim works, depending on the seriousness of the bite, they may need to take a lot of time off from work. This may be to recover and receive medical treatment. A bite that causes a permanent disability impacting the person’s ability to earn an income can boost damages. If the person’s expected to earn less money in the future, that expected loss can be part of the claim.
- Physical pain, mental or emotional suffering
A vicious, traumatic dog attack can be a life-changing event. Not only is there physical pain from the attack, but also pain endured throughout recovery and treatment. Depending on the injury, the pain may be chronic. There’s also the terror felt during the attack, the anxiety of not knowing how badly you’re hurt, the distress of not living the life you want to lead, and the long-term trauma of mentally reliving the event, and the ongoing fear when you see a dog. A dog bite victim could have post-traumatic stress syndrome that requires professional help.
- Loss of consortium
Your spouse may recover compensation for the harm they suffered because of the attack, including their pain, suffering, emotional distress, and the negative impact on your relationship.
- Punitive damages
These are damages are meant to punish the defendant and discourage the defendant, and others like them, from committing the same acts in the future. Punitive damages are rarely awarded because the defendant’s acts need to be extreme or intentional. We would have to show clear and convincing evidence the person engaged in conduct with malice, oppression, or fraud.
- Malice: The defendant intended to cause your injury or their conduct was despicable and done with a willful and knowing disregard of your rights or safety. They’re aware of the probable, dangerous consequences of their behavior and deliberately fail to avoid them
- Oppression: The defendant’s conduct was despicable and subjected you to cruel and unjust hardship in knowing disregard of your rights. Despicable conduct is so evil or contemptible it would be looked down on and despised by reasonable people
- Fraud: The defendant intentionally misrepresented or concealed a material fact intending to do harm
How can you show any of these elements in order to recover punitive damages for a dog bite? Typically it is when the dog has a history of prior attacks, and the owner has failed to take measures to prevent it from happening again. This “callous disregard” of safety can put the dog owner’s conduct in the punitive damages category.
If there is credible evidence connecting the dog bite to the harm you suffered, the total value of all these damages is roughly the value of your lawsuit. Cases don’t usually settle for their full value—the most that the most favorable jury would award on the best day. Settlement is a compromise. In exchange for the certainty of a settlement and avoiding the time, energy, expense, and stress involved in a trial, normally the plaintiff takes a discount. If it goes to trial, the jury would decide if the dog owner is liable and if so, how much you should receive.
Get the Help You Need From Attorneys You Can Trust
Callaway & Wolf’s reputation as plaintiff’s personal injury lawyers handling dog bite injury claims precedes us. Dog owners often have insurance coverage for harm caused by their dogs, typically homeowner’s or renter’s. Insurance companies know we’re professionals who work hard for our clients, skillfully negotiate settlements, and will take cases to trial if negotiations break down. Judges know our clients have real, significant injuries. If you have questions about your legal rights or compensation for a dog attack, call us at 415-541-0300, or use our online contact form today.
Boone Callaway is a personal injury & medical malpractice lawyer in San Francisco who has been working with clients in the Bay Area for over 25 years. Mr. Callaway is one of only a few personal injury litigators in San Francisco who is a Super Lawyer, AV Rated and is also a member of ABOTA – American Board of Trial Advocates.