David G. Smith
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What to Know About Dog Bites and Liability

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San Francisco Bay Area residents love to walk, run and hike with their dogs. Unfortunately, some of those dogs become aggressive and bite.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, dogs bite about 4.5 million people each year. Over half of dog-bite injuries occur at home from dogs we know.

In California, the owner of an animal that bites another person is strictly liable for injuries caused to the victim, regardless of whether the owner had reason to believe the dog was dangerous. Strict liability applies whether the attack occurs on public or private property, provided the victim was lawfully on that property.

What do you do if your dog bites someone?

Help the bitten person get medical attention. The victim will probably ask for your contact information to report the incident to local animal control officials. Give it to them. Also consider the following:

Contact your homeowner's insurance company. Most homeowner's insurance policies cover dog bite liability for dogs owned by the homeowner. In California, liability attaches immediately. You don't have to know the dog is dangerous.

Check your policy. Some policies only cover the first bite. The policy may also reduce coverage if the dog bites someone away from the homeowner's property. Some policies exclude dog bite injuries connected to vehicles. So if your dog bites someone through the window of your car, that claim wouldn't be covered. However, your auto insurance policy might cover that scenario.

Some homeowner's insurance policies will not cover dog bites from specific breeds. The policy may have an exclusion for dogs categorized as dangerous, such as pit bulls. Other insurers decide on a case-by-case basis, depending on the dog.

Are you a landlord? Know the dog of the person you're renting to. If you rent to a dog owner and know about the dog's vicious tendencies, you may be held liable if the dog bites someone on your property.

Uninsured? If you don't have an insurance policy that covers dog bites, the victim can still file a legal claim against you. That claim may include damages for medical expenses, loss of income and pain and suffering. To avoid this expense, you may want to take steps to train your dog not to bite and/or consider protective gear (muzzles, etc.) until Fido learns to be nice to strangers.

Did you know California has more dog bite claims than any other state? In 2016, California reported 1,934 dog bite claims, up from 1,684 the previous year.

If you're the victim of a dog bite, seek medical attention right away. When you're able, contact an experienced personal injury attorney for a free consultation.

Photo courtesy of Flickr

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David G. Smith, Attorney At Law
2201 Broadway
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Oakland, CA 94612

Phone: 925-308-6484
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