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USE NOTE

This article, and the others listed above, are originals written by Rolando Pasquali. Many were published in legal journals and in newspapers of general circulation. Each article is based upon general principles of California Law in existence at the time that it was written. The law constantly changes. Therefore the articles, including this one, may contain information which is out of date. Also, even a small difference in facts can change how the law applies to any situation. No information in this article or anywhere on this website constitutes legal advice. These articles do not create an attorney-client relationship between you and this office. If you need legal advice, contact this office or an attorney in your area

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Dog Bites & Animal Attacks

 

by Rolando Pasquali

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Rocky was a great dog. He was a mutt, no papers... my parents got him from Pets Unlimited, and we didn’t even know what breed of parent dogs he had. Anyhow, I loved him just the same. He used to keep me company on my paper route. In 1969, my route was the business district along part of San Francisco's Mission Street, then residences down to South Van Ness Avenue.

          It didn’t occur to me until after it happened, but that little poodle inside the florist’s shop used to bark an awful lot every time I rode up on my bike, newspapers in tow. Big Old “Rocky” used to stare at her through the window while I walked in and dropped off the afternoon San Francisco Examiner. I guess that poodle hated Rocky, and by extension, me too. Then one day, faster than you’d imagine, it happened.

          The little poodle jumped up and bit me on the thigh. It broke the skin and left a welt the size of a half dollar. One of my other customers told me about the “one free bite law.” I still remember his words, “law can’t do nothin’, you should have kicked it like a football.” I didn’t know it at the time, but he was wrong.

Strict Liability

          A special law applies to injuries by dogs. It’s called “Strict Liability.” This means that the ordinary rules, requiring the injured person to prove negligence, simply don’t apply. With Strict liability, the question isn’t fault, it’s “how much” the responsible party owes. No amount of ignorance, care, prudence, or good intentions either constitutes a defense or affects the outcome of these cases. California Civil Code section 3342 makes the owner of a dog “strictly liable” for damages caused when the owner’s dog injures another person. Further, this law applies to all dog injuries, not just bites, and not just from mean animals. Many years ago, a 52 year-old woman in a park had her arm broken when a small dog, chasing another animal, accidentally crashed into her and knocked her down. In 1988, I obtained $158,000, for her from the insurance company, which represented the dog’s owners.

Injuries Can Be Both Physical & Psychological

          When we think of “injuries,” everyone thinks of fractures, cuts, and wounds. But “injuries” can be less visible. Especially in the case of very young children, scars can go beyond the “physical” to the psychological. Existing law compensates all. In the case of dog injuries, the owner is responsible for all injuries caused by the incident.

          With bites and scars, the location of the scar is obviously significant. Facial scars are particularly harmful to persons who rely on their appearance as a profession, models for example. Also, scars need to be watched closely for the prospect of scar “keloid” (a new excessive growth of thick fibrous tissue over the scar area). Psychological injuries can be significant, depending upon the type of incident. While not so much with older persons, very young victims can suffer from the memory of the event for years in the future.

Insurance

          Amid all this disturbing news, there’s one good thing. Because most all dog-related injuries are unintended, the owners insurance company will step up and make things whole. Homeowners, business, and even renters policies often cover public liability. As such, the injured person has both a viable and financially sound recourse.

What You Should Do

         
          Get medical attention, fast. Broken bones and bites involve a substantial risk of infection. Left untreated, infections can spin out of control and lead to catastrophic results. Second, report the incident to the police. This will document that “it happened” and, hopefully, provide the name and address of the dog’s owner. Finally, if the injuries are serious, consider formally presenting a claim. It’s much better to use the courts than to “kick it like a football.”

- by Rolando Pasquali

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