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Dog Bites Are Major Liability for Insurance Companies in California

dog-bite-injury-lawyers-Los-AngelesMany Americans count pets as valued members of their families, and dogs are among the most popular types of pets with 38.4% of U.S. households owning at least one dog. California reflects a similar trend with nearly 40% of households owning one or more dogs. In Los Angeles County, the percentage of dog owners reflects the state and national trends with 40.1% of households in the county owning dogs.

While dogs are popular types of pets, they also can cause serious injuries or deaths when they attack others. Unfortunately, any dog can bite. When someone is seriously injured or killed in a dog attack, the victim or family can pursue compensation by filing a dog bite claim against the dog’s owner. Dog bite claims are typically covered by the pet owner’s homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy. Recent dog bite claims data demonstrates the severity of dog bite attacks and how costly they can be when someone is seriously injured by a dog.

Insurance Claims Data for Dog Bites

Insurance claims data for 2022 reported by the Insurance Journal reveals that insurance companies paid more than $1 billion during that year in dog bite claims across the U.S. This represented a 28% year-over-year increase from 2021 even though the total number of claims in 2022 fell to 17,597 as compared to 17,989 filed in 2021. Even though the total number of claims dropped by 2.2%, the total claims paid by insurance companies increased from $882 million to $1.13 billion in 2022.

The average per-claim value of dog bite claims paid in 2022 was $64,555 as compared to an average value of $49,025 in 2021 for a 31.7% increase. Between 2013 and 2022, the average value of dog bit claims paid by insurance companies increased by 131.7%. This increase is largely due to the upward trend in the cost of medical care and the size of jury verdicts, judgments, and settlements.

State Data

In 2022, California had the most dog bite claims filed in the country. The top five states for dog bite injury claims included the following:

  • 1. California with 1,954 claims filed
  • 2. Florida with 1,331 dog bite claims filed
  • 3. Texas with 1,017 dog bite claims field
  • 4. New York with 969 dog bite claims filed
  • 5. Michigan with 905 dog bite claims filed

California was also the number one state in terms of dog bite injury claims paid by insurance companies with those paid in the state averaging $78.818 in 2022. Florida came in at a close second with an average paid claim value of $78,203.

Liability for Dog Bite Claims

Dog bite laws vary across the U.S. Some states have laws that are known as one-bite dog statutes while others impose strict liability on dog owners when their dogs bite others. California is one of 29 states that holds dog owners strictly liable when their dogs bite others.

In states with one-bite dog laws, owners are only liable when they have knowledge or should reasonably know that their dogs have a propensity to bite others. In those states, this means that a dog owner will typically not be liable the first time their dog bites someone else. In states with strict liability statutes for dog bites like California, however, a dog owner’s previous knowledge of their dog’s propensity to bite is not dispositive. Instead, a dog owner is liable regardless of whether the owner knew or had reason to know of the viciousness of their dog.

Four states, including Mississippi, Kansas, North Dakota, and Arkansas, do not have dog bite laws. In those states, cases involving dog bites must be filed under the common law instead of a statute.

California’s Strict Liability Dog Bite Law

California’s strict liability dog bite statute is found at Cal. Civ. Code § 3342. This law imposes strict liability on dog owners when their dogs bite others in public places and those who are lawfully present on private property. According to the statute, it does not matter whether the owner knew or reasonably should have known that their dogs were likely to bite other people.

Lawful Presence

Someone is lawfully present when they are on private property at the express or implied invitation of the dog’s owner. Lawful presence also includes being on private property to perform a lawful duty recognized under state or federal laws. The following are examples of people who could be deemed as being lawfully present on private property:

  • Social guests
  • Postal carriers
  • Package deliverers
  • Food delivery drivers
  • Meter readers
  • People performing work on a home renovation project

The strict liability statute does not protect people who are illegally present on private property. For example, if someone hops over a fence and attempts to break into the owner’s home, the dog’s owner would not be liable if their dog bites the trespasser. To be safe, however, it’s a good idea for dog owners to post visible warning signs alerting others that their dog is present. It’s also a good idea for dog owners to put their dogs away when they have guests over and to keep them separated from guests and children while they are visiting.

Exceptions to Strict Liability

The strict liability dog bite statute lists the following exceptions involving police or military dogs when strict liability won’t apply:

  • During the apprehension of someone by the police or military officer who is reasonably suspected of criminal activity
  • While the police or military officer is investigating a crime
  • When the police or military officer is executing an arrest or search warrant
  • While defending the officer or a third party

In these situations, the military or police dog’s owner will not be strictly liable when their dog bites.

When Strict Liability Doesn’t Apply in Dog Bite Cases

It’s important to note that the strict liability statute in California doesn’t apply to people in control of the dog who are not the dog’s owners or when someone is injured by a dog in an attack that doesn’t involve bites. It also doesn’t apply when a different type of animal is involved. For example, if a dog bites someone while being walked by a professional dog walker, the dog walker would not be strictly liable under the dog bite statute in California. If a cat attacks someone who is visiting its owner and causes serious injuries by biting and scratching the visitor, the strict liability statute would not apply. Similarly, if a dog jumps on someone while running loose and knocks them down, causing serious injuries, the strict liability statute would not impose strict liability on the dog’s owner.

In these types of situations, the victims can still pursue dog bite claims under the state’s common law negligence rules. Negligence per se claims might also be available in certain situations when an ordinance has been violated by the person who owns or controls the dog.

Negligence Claims for Dog or Other Animal Attacks

When the strict liability statute doesn’t apply, an injured victim might still be able to pursue a claim under the state’s negligence laws. To prevail with a negligence claim, the plaintiff will need to prove each of the following elements:

  • The defendant owed a legal duty to the plaintiff.
  • The defendant violated the legal duty.
  • The defendant’s breach of the legal duty caused the animal attack and the plaintiff’s injuries.
  • The plaintiff suffered actual damages.

For example, if an owner failed to secure their pet python snake in its terrarium away from visitors and instead allowed it to freely roam about the house, a visiting family could pursue a negligence wrongful death claim against the owner if the python suffocated a small child during their social visit.

Negligence Per Se Claims

Some situations might involve violations of local ordinances. For example, if a dog walker allows a dog to roam off-leash in a restricted area, the dog walker could be liable under a negligence per se theory under a local leash law. Negligence per se claims allow the owner or person in control of the dog to be held liable without having to prove negligence based on the violation of the statute or ordinance.

Who Pays Dog Bite Claims?

Some people hesitate to file dog bite claims against friends or family members when they are injured by their loved one’s dogs. However, it’s important to understand that dog bite claims are generally paid by the dog owner’s homeowner’s or renter’s insurance instead of by the owners directly. Most insurance policies will pay dog bite claims up to the policy limits, which can range from $100,000 to $300,000. However, some insurance companies include breed restrictions in their policies. A personal injury attorney can review the insurance policy to determine whether a specific breed has been restricted and can investigate to determine other potential recovery sources when an exclusion applies.

Get Help from a Los Angeles Dog Bite Lawyer

If you were bitten by a dog or were otherwise injured in an animal attack, you should reach out to an experienced attorney at the law firm of Steven M. Sweat, Personal Injury Lawyers, APC. Call us for a free case evaluation today at 866.966.5240.

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