Role of the lawyer in a dog bite lawsuit

Dog bite lawsuits: 4 situations where you will NOT win

California law applies strict liability to dog bite cases. This means an owner is liable for damages even if the dog has never shown violent tendencies and has never bitten someone before. But there are 4 key situations where a dog bite lawsuit is likely to be unsuccessful: (1) if the victim was trespassing on private property, (2) if the victim was deliberately provoking or instigating the dog, (3) if the dog was acting in legitimate self-defense of the owner, and (4) if you were bitten by a police or military dog that was being properly used by the agency. In this video, California personal injury attorney Neil Shouse explains. More info at or call (855)-JUSTICE or (855) 587-8423 for a free consultation.

A dog bite lawyer is an attorney who represents victims in a dog bite case. A dog bite lawyer can assist victims by:

The decision to pursue compensation for your damages is a big one. Whether to hire a dog bite lawyer is another big decision. Finding a lawyer can make the process much easier and can pay huge dividends, very quickly.

In this article, our California dog bite attorneys explain:

dog biting man
A dog bite lawyer can help people affected by dog bites in various ways

1. What is a dog bite attorney?

A dog bite attorney is a type of personal injury lawyer. Personal injury lawyers help victims recover compensation after getting hurt by someone else. Dog bite lawyers help victims who were hurt by a dog.

2. Can a dog bite lawyer help me if I was bitten?

Most of a dog bite lawyer's cases involve helping the victims of a dog attack. A dog bite lawyer can pursue compensation for the victim's injuries. Victims could have been hurt when the dog bit them, jumped on them, or knocked them down.

Dog bite lawyers pursue compensation on the victim's behalf. The attorney does this by:

  • Proving that someone else is liable, or legally responsible, for the victim's injuries, and
  • Recovering compensatory payments from the liable person or party.

A dog bite attorney may pursue several legal theories:

  1. California's dog bite statute, which can hold the owner strictly liable,
  2. The dog's owner or caretaker knew or should have known of the dog's dangerous propensities,
  3. Someone acted negligently and failed to prevent the dog bite, and
  4. The keeper of the dog violated a local law or regulation in a way that was negligent per se.

Once a lawyer has established a defendant's liability for a dog bite, he then must find a way to collect compensation. This can be difficult if the defendant or dog owner was not insured.

2.1. Strict Liability

The easiest way to hold someone liable for a dog bite is through California's dog bite statute.1

In order to hold a dog owner strictly liable under California law, a lawyer needs to establish that:

  • The defendant owned the dog,
  • The dog either bit the victim in a public place or on private property where the victim had a right to be,
  • The victim was injured, and
  • The dog bite was a substantial factor in causing those injuries.2

However, California's dog bite statute:

  • does not protect trespassers, and
  • only applies to the owner of the dog.

2.2. Dogs with dangerous propensities

A lawyer can argue that the dog's violent ways made it a dangerous animal to keep. People who have dogs with known dangerous tendencies can be held liable for the injuries caused by the dog.

A dog bite lawyer can help victims by showing that:

  • The defendant kept or owned the dog,
  • The dog had an unusually dangerous nature or violent tendencies,
  • Before the victim was bitten or hurt, the defendant knew or should have known of that nature or tendencies,
  • The victim was hurt, and
  • The dog's unusually dangerous nature or tendencies were a substantial factor in the harm.3

2.3. Negligence

People can be held liable for a dog bite if their negligence caused the bite to happen. Attorneys often use this argument to hold someone other than the dog owner accountable. This can be necessary if the dog owner is uninsured and cannot compensate the victim.

2.4. Negligence per se

If the dog's keeper was violating local rules or regulations that are meant to prevent dog bites, that violation can be used to show they were acting negligently. This is the doctrine of negligence per se. A dog bite lawyer can appeal to negligence per se as a reason to hold the defendant liable.

2.5. Holding someone else liable if the owner has no insurance

When the dog owner does not have insurance, it becomes very important to hold someone else liable. Not doing so can mean the victim wins their case, but recovers next to nothing.

The average cost of a dog bite insurance claim in 2018 was $39,017.4 Most people lack the assets on which a judgment of this sort can be collected.

a dog bite attorney hard at work
A dog bite lawyer can also pursue compensation for injuries that a dog suffered in a dog attack.

3. Can a lawyer help me if my dog was attacked?

A dog bite lawyer can also pursue compensation for injuries that a dog suffered in a dog attack.

In California, dogs are considered personal property of their owners. If a dog gets hurt when it gets bitten by another dog, the owner can recover compensation for their “property damage.”

4. Can a lawyer help me if my dog bit someone?

A dog bite lawyer can also help dog owners whose pets bite someone. The owner of a dog that just bit someone can use legal help on 2 fronts:

  1. To protect the dog through the quarantine and euthanasia procedures, and
  2. To make sure the owner's insurance company provides the coverage they promised.

4.1. The quarantine and euthanasia process

When a dog bites someone, it starts the quarantine process. This can be traumatic for the pet and its owners. It can also lead to a euthanasia hearing, which can end with the dog being put down.

If a dog bites a person in California, local health officials must be notified. This triggers a 10-day quarantine process. The offending dog has to be monitored for signs of rabies. Dogs that are a low risk for rabies can be quarantined at home. Dogs that are high risk, though, have to be confined and monitored closely.

A dog bite lawyer can help owners convince animal control officers that their dog can be safely held at home. This can avoid a traumatic experience for both the pet and their family.

A dog bite lawyer can also represent a dog owner and their pet during the euthanasia hearing process. Members of the public can petition local authorities to put a dog down if it has bitten people. A hearing will be held to determine if the dog is a threat to the public. A dog bite attorney can help owners highlight that this is not the case with their pet.

4.2. Insurance coverage issues

Dog owners who have homeowners or renters insurance that covers dog bites can find their insurance company trying to deny coverage. A dog bite lawyer can fight to convince the insurance company to provide the coverage they agreed to provide. If they do not follow through on the insurance policy, a dog bite lawyer can help the owner file a bad faith insurance claim.

5. How would a lawyer prove my case?

Each client is different for a dog bite lawyer. However, a typical dog bite case involves a human victim who needs compensation for their losses. An attorney can help by:

  • Investigating what happened,
  • Sending a demand letter to insurance companies and responsible parties,
  • Filing a dog bite lawsuit,
  • Assembling a case that will hold the defendant liable, and
  • Collecting the judgment or settlement.

A dog bite lawyer can also give a claim for compensation a lot of weight. When insurance companies see that a victim has hired a lawyer, they take the claim much more seriously. Offers of compensation often rise dramatically as soon as a victim “lawyers up.”

6. Can I represent myself in a dog bite case?

Dog bite victims can represent themselves. However, gathering evidence that can help a case is difficult even with the extensive experience that lawyers have. Finding evidence without knowing what will work well to prove a dog bite case can make even more difficult.

Additionally, insurance companies often consider unrepresented victims easy to push around. Without knowing what should happen from prior cases, victims can think they are being treated fairly when they are actually being abused by big companies.


Legal References:

  1. California Civil Code 3342.

  2. California Civil Jury Instructions 463.

  3. California Civil Jury Instructions 462.

  4. Insurance Information Institute, “Spotlight on: Dog bite liability.”

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