The legal damages that you can recover in a dog bite lawsuit aim to compensate you for your injuries and other losses. The costs of medical bills, alone, are often enough to shock victims. Dog bites often get infected or lead to permanent disfigurement. They can also cause significant emotional trauma, including a perpetual fear of dogs.
A dog bite lawsuit aims to recover compensation for all of these setbacks, including those that are difficult to state in a dollar amount. A lawsuit can also demand punitive damages if the defendant’s conduct was especially bad.
In this article, our California dog bite attorneys explain:
- 1. What losses can be compensated in a dog bite lawsuit in California?
- 1.1. Medical bills
- 1.2. Lost wages and other professional setbacks
- 1.3. Reduced earning capacity
- 1.4. Physical pain and mental or emotional suffering
- 1.5. Loss of consortium
- 1.6. Property damage
- 2. Can I recover punitive damages in a dog bite lawsuit?
- 3. Will the dog owner’s insurance cover a dog bite lawsuit?
- 4. Are there damage caps that limit how much I can recover in a dog bite case?
- 5. What compensation can be recovered if the dog bite was fatal?
1. What losses can be compensated in a dog bite lawsuit in California?
Successful dog bite lawsuits recover compensation for all of your losses. This includes obvious repercussions from the dog bite, like medical bills. It also includes losses that are less apparent, like emotional trauma from living with a permanent disfigurement.
The types of compensation you can recover include:
- Medical bills,
- Lost wages,
- Any reduction to your ability to earn a living,
- Physical pain,
- Emotional or mental suffering and anguish,
- Loss of consortium, and
- Property damage.
1.1. Medical bills
A core component to your compensation after suffering a dog bite is your medical bill. Dog bites can cost far more to treat than one would normally expect. In fact, the average insurance claim for a dog bite in 2018 was $39,017.1
The compensation you can recover for your medical bills includes payment for expenses you have already paid, like:
- On-site treatment by an emergency medical technician (EMT),
- Ambulatory services,
- Emergency room treatment,
- Wound cleaning,
- Stitches and suturing,
- Tetanus shots,
- Rabies shots, if necessary,
- Removal of dog teeth still inside the wound,
- Surgical procedures to fix broken bones,
- Plastic surgery to mitigate the scarring or disfigurement, and
- Antibiotic treatments to prevent or neutralize infections.
These expenses skyrocket if the dog bite was especially severe. The following dog bite injuries can easily cost over $100,000:
- The wound from the dog bite gets infected and the infection spreads or becomes systemic,
- There is nerve damage from the bite,
- The dog bite causes severe disfigurements, or
- The bite causes dismemberment or surgeons have to amputate a body part to treat the bite.
Compensation for your medical expenses also includes anticipated future medical expenses, like:
- Physical therapy,
- Occupational therapy,
- Modifications to your home, if the bite leaves you with mobility problems, and
- Ongoing maintenance and replacement of medical devices, like new prosthetics or wheelchairs.
1.2. Lost wages and other professional setbacks
Adult dog bite victims will likely miss work while recovering from a dog bite. They can recover compensation for their lost wages during the recovery process.
Workers who do not make a set salary can still recover compensation for their financial loss during their recovery. Calculating the lost income is just more difficult to do.
1.3. Reduced earning capacity
Severe dog bites leave victims with debilitating injuries. If those injuries prevent a victim from returning to work or keep them out of the workforce, entirely, a dog bite lawsuit can recover compensation for their lost earning capacity.
Lost earning capacity is especially helpful for victims who did not have a job at the time of the dog bite. It can compensate them for the professional life that they could have had, were it not for the bite.
Example: Lorry was a college student when she suffered nerve damage in a dog attack. She can no longer be a professional athlete.
1.4. Physical pain and mental or emotional suffering
Dog bite victims can also recover compensation for their pain and suffering. The amount of this compensation is difficult to determine. However, it was caused by the dog bite so the law allows victims to recover it.
Compensation for physical pain is meant to cover anything that hurt you and that was caused by the dog bite, like:
- The pain during the attack,
- Pain from the emergency care you needed,
- Soreness felt throughout the recovery process,
- The pain of undergoing physical therapy, and
- Weakness from any disabilities that came from the dog bite.
The mental anguish and the emotional trauma that you felt can also be compensated. This compensation is supposed to cover:
- The terror of the dog attack,
- The fear of needing emergency medical care, especially if there was lots of blood from the bite or a body part was dismembered,
- The dread of not knowing how badly you have been hurt,
- The realization of the severity of your medical condition,
- The disappointment of not being able to do the things you enjoy doing because of your injuries,
- The emotional distress of living with a disfigurement that serves as a physical reminder of the attack, and
- Any latent or subconscious fear of dogs you feel after the attack.
1.5. Loss of consortium
Spouses of the victim can recover compensation for loss of consortium. In California, these damages are meant to cover the spouse’s:
- Pain and suffering,
- Emotional distress, and
- Loss of society and companionship.2
1.6. Property damage
Dog bite victims can also recover compensation for any property damage sustained in the incident.
In most dog bite cases, this can cover little more than the victim’s clothes that were ruined during the attack. Victims that were riding by on bicycles or motorcycles when they were attacked stand to recover more if their vehicles were damaged.
When an attacking dog bites another dog as well as the victim, compensation for property damage can also cover injuries suffered by the hurt dog.
Example: Michelle is walking her Jack Russell terrier. They are both attacked by a pit bull that escaped from its yard.
2. Can I recover punitive damages in a dog bite lawsuit?
You may also be able to recover punitive damages in a dog bite lawsuit. However, an award of punitive damages is rare. The defendant’s conduct must have been exceptionally bad for the court to award them.
3. Will the dog owner’s insurance cover a dog bite lawsuit?
If the owner or the keeper of the dog has insurance, it may cover the costs of the dog bite.
Homeowners insurance and renters insurance can cover a dog owner’s liability. However, most insurance companies require dog owners to opt in to coverage. Many dog owners refuse to opt-in because of the higher premiums they would have to pay.
Additionally, some dog owners have a hard time getting insurance because they have a breed of dog that is considered dangerous. Even if they find an insurance company that will cover their dog, the premiums can be very high. Some of these dangerous breeds include:
- Pit bulls,
- Staffordshire terriers,
- German Shepherds,
- Alaskan Malamutes,
- Siberian Huskies, and
- Wolf hybrids.
If there is no insurance to cover liability for the dog bite, victims have to hold the owner personally liable. Victims can also search for another party who negligently caused their injuries.
4. Are there damage caps that limit how much I can recover in a dog bite case?
There are no damage caps on dog bite lawsuits in California. The jury is free to award victims as much compensation and punitive recovery as they think is necessary.
5. What compensation can be recovered if the dog bite was fatal?
If the dog bite proved to be fatal, the victim’s family or representative can file a wrongful death claim. The damages that can be recovered in wrongful death lawsuits are different than regular dog bite cases. They include:
- Funeral and burial expenses,
- Lost financial support, and
- Loss of consortium.
Wrongful death claims cannot recover punitive damages, though.
Call us for help…
The compensation you can recover in a dog bite lawsuit can protect your future. Contact our California dog bite lawyers today to get started on your case.
Insurance Information Institute, “Spotlight on: Dog bite liability.”
California Civil Code 1431.2(b)(2).