Both compensatory and punitive damages are available under California's dog bite statute.
Section 3342 of the California Civil Code, a strict liability statute, provides damages to a dog bite victim if he or she is bitten:
- in a public place or,
- lawfully on any property, including the property of the dog owner. (not a trespasser) 
Compensatory damages compensate a victim for his or her injuries. Compensatory damages fall into two categories:
- Economic damages
- Non- economic damages
Economic damages are measurable, objective damages, examples include:
Non-economic damages are intangible damages, such as:
- pain and suffering,
- disfigurement, scarring,
- emotional distress, and
- physical impairment.
Punitive damages are based not on the dog bite victim's damages, but on the malicious nature of the defendant's conduct. The purpose of punitive damages is to punish the dog owner for egregious or reckless behavior.
Below, our personal injury attorneys discuss the types of damages available under California's dog bite statute.
- 1. What are compensatory damages and are they available under California's dog bite statute?
- 2. Are punitive damages available to California dog bite victims?
- 3. Does insurance cover dog bite injuries?
California's dog bite statute provides monetary damages to victims who are attacked on public property or lawfully on private property. These damages are called compensatory damages. There are two types of compensatory damages: economic damages and non-economic damages.
Economic damages are measurable and verifiable expenses accrued by the dog bite victim. The victim can receive compensation for both past and future medical expenses, lost wages, loss of earning capacity, and any other out-of-pocket expenses.
Example: Tom's dog, Fido, bite Sally while she was visiting his house. Due to the attack, Sally sustained a large wound in her leg. An ambulance rushed Sally to the emergency room where she had to receive pain medication and stitches. Additionally, Sally attended physical therapy to rebuild the muscle mass in her leg. Due to Sally's injury, she could not work as a waitress for a month. Sally made a thousand dollars ($1,000.00) a week as a waitress.
If Sally sued Tom, she could receive compensation for:
- Her medical bills, including the ambulance bill
- Her pain medication
- Physical therapy, and,
- 4,000 dollars in lost wages.
Non-economic damages are unquantifiable damages. Non-economic damages are provided to compensate the victim for non-economic losses, such as pain and suffering, disfigurement, scarring, emotional distress, post-traumatic stress disorder, and physical impairment.
The purpose of non-economic damages is to compensate the victim for the emotional and psychological issues stemming from the traumatic event.
Example: Due to Tom's dog Fido attacking Sally, she developed a severe phobia of dogs. Whenever she saw a dog, she would have a panic attack. She also had trouble sleeping at night and suffered from depression because she could no longer run in marathons. Additionally, Sally has a large scar on her thigh which is visible when she wears shorts or a dress.
If Sally sued Tom, she could receive compensation for:
- Her severe phobia of dogs and panic attacks (emotional distress),
- The scar on her leg (disfigurement and scarring), and
- No longer being able to participate in marathons (physical impairment)
The purpose of punitive damages is to punish the dog owner for egregious or reckless behavior.
Given the severity of punitive damages, the plaintiff must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the dog owner's conduct amounted to “oppression, fraud, or malice.”  Malicious conduct is as conduct whereby the defendant intends to cause harm to the plaintiff.
In the context of a dog bite or other animal attack, the plaintiff will have to prove that:
- The owner knew the dog had bitten or attacked someone on multiple occasions; or,
- The owner instructed the dog to attack people;
- The owner recklessly or intentionally failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the dog from biting others.
Typically, the defendant's homeowner or renter insurance policy will pay for the dog bite victim's injuries. In fact, dog bites are the most common liability claim on homeowners and renter's insurance policies.  However, it is important to note that some companies exclude liability coverage for dogs of certain breeds.
Dog breeds that are often subject to restrictions include:
- Pit bulls,
- Staffordshire terriers,
- German Shepherds,
- Alaskan Malamutes,
- Siberian Huskies, and
- Wolf hybrids.
Additionally, some insurers might limit the number of dog bite claims they will pay and/or the amount they will pay for dog bite injuries.
If the owner does not have an insurance policy, the plaintiff can sue the owner directly his or her injuries.
Are you or a loved one a dog bite victim seeking compensation for your injuries?
Contact our experienced dog bite attorneys for a free consultation.
Call us at (855) LAWFIRM to discuss your case in confidence with an experienced California injury lawyer.
We have offices throughout California, including in Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, San Bernardino, San Diego and Riverside Counties, as well as Central and Northern California.
- Does California's Dog Bite Statute Protect Dogs who are Attacked?
- What is the “Statute of Limitations” for California's Dog Bite Law?
- Does California Require a Dog To Be Euthanized After It Bites Someone?
- Does California have a “One Bite Rule”?
- Does California Require a Dog To Be Quarantined After It Bites Someone?
- Does Homeowner's Insurance Cover Dog Bites in California?
- Cal.Civ.Code § 3294 (c)
- Insurance Information Institute, Dog Bite Liability.