In 2021, California ranked first in the nation as having the most dog bite claims (at 2,026 claims) and the highest average dog bite settlement at $59,561 per claim. Last year, insurance companies paid out more than $120.7 million in dog bite claims in California alone, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
Most dog bite cases end with a settlement. In most situations, these settlements happen after months of discussions and evidence gathering. How much compensation you get will depend on certain factors, including:
- Your age,
- The severity of your dog bite injuries,
- Whether there are any long-term injuries or disfigurements, and
- If the owner knew of their dog’s aggressiveness but did nothing to stop it.
In this article, our experienced dog bite lawyers explain:
- 1. What is a settlement in a dog bite case?
- 2. What is the settlement process in a dog bite case?
- 3. What are factors that determine how much my case is worth?
- 4. How can I maximize the dollar amount of the settlement?
- 5. How long does it take to get money from a dog bite?
1. What is a settlement in a dog bite case?
In a dog bite case, a settlement is an agreed-upon resolution. The dog’s owner or, more often, their homeowner’s insurance policy will pay compensation to you for your damages. You, in return, agree to drop your case against the owner of the dog.
The compensation that you receive is supposed to make you whole, again. It reflects an estimate of the damages that you could have recovered, had you taken the case to trial. It covers your losses from the incident, including your:
- Past medical bills and those that are reasonably anticipated in the future,
- Health insurance deductibles,
- Lost wages,
- Lost earning potential,
- Pain and suffering, and
- Loss of consortium damages for your family
In return for this compensation, you agree to drop your case against the dog’s owner. The owner likely would have been held strictly liable for their dog’s attack.
Once the case has been dropped, it cannot be resumed. Accepting a settlement offer permanently ends a dog bite case. If you find out later that the compensation you received was not enough, you cannot resume the lawsuit.
2. What is the settlement process in a dog bite case?
The settlement process in a dog bite case is a series of discussions between you and the owner of the dog. It can begin in the first few days after the bite happens, and can go right up to the point a jury returns a verdict.
The settlement process often begins when the dog owner’s insurance company makes an initial settlement offer. This offer is meant to sound enticing by covering the medical expenses you have already paid. However, it does not cover future medical care or any of your other losses.
If you refuse the initial settlement offer, you – or your personal injury attorney – can continue the negotiation process by issuing a demand letter to the dog owner or their insurance company. The demand letter
- tells them about your situation and
- informs them that you are considering filing a lawsuit.
If the demand letter does not produce an adequate settlement, the next step in the settlement process is to file the lawsuit. Filing the complaint and serving it on the defendant will trigger the evidence discovery process. Settlement discussions will heat up as evidence gets uncovered. The dog owner or their insurance company may make several other offers as the case moves forward.
Most lawsuits are settled out of court. However, if no adequate offer is made in your case, it will go to trial. Right before and even during trial, though, lawyers for the dog owner and their insurance company can make settlement offers. These can happen right up to the point where the jury returns their verdict.
3. What are factors that determine how much my case is worth?
While every dog bite case is different, there are some important factors that drive how much a case is worth under California law. These are:
- Your age,
- How bad the bite was and the medical attention required,
- Whether there were any long-term physical effects from the injury,
- If there will be permanent scarring or disfigurement,
- Long-term emotional or mental effects of the injury.
- Any prior attacks by this dog (viciousness) and lack of preventative measures taken by the owner, and
- Whether you were trespassing.
When several of these factors are at play, the potential settlement can increase dramatically.1
3.1. Your age
Children who get bitten by dogs are far more likely to recover a larger settlement than adults.2 There are several reasons for this, including:
- Children are less able to defend themselves in a dog attack,
- Adults are more likely to be aware of the dangers than a child is,
- A dog attack can instill a permanent fear of dogs in a child,
- A child is more likely to be mentally scarred from an injury than an adult,
- The injuries suffered by a child are more likely to have long-term repercussions, and
- Any disfigurement that will have a more profound effect on a child.
3.2. Severity of the bite
Obviously, the severity of the bite will drive any settlement amount. Minor injuries that do not pierce the skin will not recover the same compensation as a life-threatening injury. Some of the most important factors in the severity of the injury include:
- Whether the bite pierced the skin or not,
- Nerve damage,
- Blood loss from the attack,
- Any dismemberments suffered from the bite or amputations required to treat it,
- If the bite caused rabies, and
- If you will have a physical scar.
When a bite results in death, the victim’s family can bring a wrongful death claim.
3.3. Long-term injuries or debilitation
Dog bites that cause a long-term injury or a permanent debilitation or disability tend to garner larger settlements. These injuries usually involve lots of medical bills anticipated in the future for ongoing care.
3.4. Scarring or disfigurement
Dog bites that leave permanent scars or disfigurements also tend to lead to higher settlements. Even if these disfigurements are only superficial, they can serve as a constant reminder to you of your ordeal.
They can also lead to social stigmatization and isolation, especially for children or if the scarring is prominent and difficult to cover up. The emotional distress that this can cause is significant.
3.5. Mental or emotional trauma, like a new fear of dogs
Canine attacks may leave you wary and fearful of dogs. This fear can keep you from enjoying pets and can make it difficult for you to associate with friends or family members who have them.
3.6. The owner knew of their pet’s aggressive tendencies
The settlement amount can also increase if it was apparent that the dog’s owner knew of their pet’s dangerous tendencies. The potential for facing punitive damages in a dog bite trial can lead owners to offer higher settlements.
3.7. Whether you trespassed
If you were trespassing, you are likely to see your settlement offers decrease based on California dog bite law.
Trespassers cannot win a dog bite claim by relying on California’s dog bite statute.3 This statute only holds owners strictly liable for biting someone lawfully on the property. If you trespassed, you would need to prove that the owner’s negligence caused your injuries.
Juries are also more likely to hold trespassers partially at fault, whether the location was a public place or a private place. Under comparative fault laws, this can lower the compensation awarded in a verdict.
4. How can I maximize the dollar amount of the settlement?
You can maximize the dollar amount of a dog bite settlement by doing 2 things:
- Getting full medical care, and
- Hiring a respected lawyer.
Getting medical care after an animal attack creates a paper trail of your losses. It reduces speculation about your condition and how much treatment would cost. This adds certainty to your case, which can be reflected in the settlement offer.
Hiring a personal injury lawyer can also increase your potential settlement. Insurance companies know which lawyers will accept low settlement offers and which ones will take the case to trial and win a verdict.
Finding and hiring a lawyer that insurance companies fear can push them into offering higher settlement offers to keep the case from going to trial.
5. How long does it take to get money from a dog bite?
Many California dog bite cases settle after a few weeks or months. But some go on for years. Factors that affect the length of a lawsuit include:
- the defendant’s cooperativeness
- the available evidence, and what it shows
- which insurance carriers are involved
- whether the case settles or goes to trial
You may be tempted to accept a low-ball offer right away in attempt to “move on” from the incident. But you are advised to pursue the maximum possible settlement that covers all your anticipated medical expenses and pain and suffering.
Call us for help…
If you or a loved one has been bitten by a dog, you can use the help of an experienced dog bite attorney to get a settlement that adequately compensates you. Contact our dog bite lawyers today to get started on your personal injury case. We offer legal advice on your California dog bite case.
Our law firm is based in Los Angeles but we have law offices and offer case reviews throughout California.
- Triple-I: U.S. Home Insurers Paid Out Nearly $900M in Dog-Related Claims in 2021, Insurance Information Institute (April 22, 2022). See Natalie Martinez, “Dog Bite Settlement is Largest in Illinois History,” NBC Chicago (July 29, 2013) ($1.125 million settlement for 120-pound dog had history of attacks, and injuries caused lasting emotional trauma and scarring to teenager). See also California Civil Code 3342, which imposes strict liability on the owners of dogs who bite others.
- See Gretchen Brown, “4-year-old Minnesota girl wins settlement in dog bite case,” West Central Tribune (March 11, 2016) ($150,000 settlement for child in face and neck and suffered permanent scarring).
- Fullerton v. Conan, (Cal. App. 1948) 197 P.2d 59.