When Pit Bulls Attack, California Dog Owners Can Be Held Liable

A recent news story in the Modesto Bee highlights the horror of dog bite attacks. A woman was attacked at a party by a pit bull that had never exhibited any signs of aggressiveness. As the story relates, "It lunged at [the woman's] face, biting down so hard that nearly half of her nose was ripped away."

The dog had been acting playfully moments before, so she had no warning of the attack and apparently had done nothing to provoke the pit bull. After two reconstructive surgeries, and the prospect of an unknown number of additional surgeries, the victim of the attack described herself as looking like she had gone through a windshield.

Dog bites are a more significant problem than many people may think. According to the article, the City of Sacramento Animal Care Services investigated 165 incidents of animal attacks and bites in 2010. The vast majority of those cases involved pit bulls.

Furthermore, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that:

  • About 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year.
  • Almost one in five of those who are bitten, or 885,000 people, require medical attention for dog bite-related injuries.
  • In 2006, more than 31,000 people underwent reconstructive surgery as a result of being bitten by dogs.

Dog bite victims often need multiple reconstructive surgeries to repair the damage and disfigurement caused by dog bites. If an attack involves a small child, in addition to surgery, the victim may need psychological counseling to recover from the attack.

These treatments can be costly, and the recovery period can be difficult. However, those who are harmed by dog bites do not have to face all of the consequences alone.

California is Civil Code section 3342 governs liability for dog bites in California. Under state law, "the owner of any dog is liable for the damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in a private place…regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner's knowledge of such viciousness."

It is irrelevant whether the dog has previously displayed behavior indicating violent tendencies. A dog's owner is liable for the injuries caused by that dog's bite. For those who have been injured by a dog, it is important to speak with a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer. An attorney with experience handling legal claims stemming from dog bite attacks can provide effective representation and ensure that the victim's interests are protected.