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Dog Bites Can Lead to Substantial Jury Awards

The Cartwright Law Firm has handled many dog bites cases over the years, and feels there is good reason to alert dog owners to the issues they may face if their dog bites or otherwise harms another person.

Dogs are some of our most loved pets, but they can create liability issues for their owners. When a dog bites a visitor who comes on your property, or in an off-property encounter where you should always have control of your dogs, the injured party can file a claim. And remember that in California, dog bites are considered a strict liability matter — you, the dog’s owner, are liable for the harm caused, regardless of the initiating cause.

The following story is a good example of how even a dog that is trained very well will bite visitors if it feels threatened, and even where the “threat” was not intentional on the part of the injured party.

In this recent case, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against a dog owner, a kennel club and a dog trainer following a bite incident at a dog show. When the case went to trial, the dog owner was the only party left on the defendant side. The dog’s owner claimed that his pet was defending itself after the plaintiff tripped and hit the dog in the head with her foot.

The dog was a 100-pound male dog that had not been neutered. At the time of the incident, the dog was on a leash, which was being held by its trainer. It was also noted that a female dog positioned near the male dog was being held on a leash and was in heat.

The plaintiff claimed that when she walked between it and the female dog, the male dog bit her ankle and would not let go. Witnesses said that the dog had to be pulled and kicked to make it release the plaintiff’s ankle. Evidence obtained in discovery showed the dog had been returned by a previous owner for aggressive behavior, and the same animal had also bitten the leg of the breeder’s neighbor. After this prior incident, the dog was sold and enrolled in training programs. In her claim, the plaintiff said that the defendant was aware of the dog’s aggressive history.

The seventy-year-old plaintiff was diagnosed with a tibial crush injury. Her foot was nearly severed after portions of the bone were torn out. She was forced to undergo five major surgeries followed this incident including the implantation of an orthopedic rod. The plaintiff’s doctor said she would have permanent scarring, and was only able to appear in court with the help of a three-wheeled walker. The jury found the defendant 100 percent liable for the dog bite, due to the defendant’s negligence. More than $1.2 million was awarded to the plaintiff.

Most renters and homeowners policies include coverage for dog bites, but they don’t always include every breed of dog. Some restricted breeds may require separate coverage. Most policies cover dog bites at home and away from home. People who do not have a homeowners or renters policy should obtain one immediately.

Legal fees from a dog bite lawsuit can easily run into the millions, so it is important for all dog owners to have such coverage. People who own condos should purchase their own policies, because HOAs cover only the association if such an incident takes place. Many policies cover between $300,000 and $500,000 in losses, but if a person wants to sufficiently protect future earnings and existing assets, an umbrella policy is highly recommended.

Remember, dog bite cases are very difficult to defend against in most instances. Maintain control of your dogs, and be sure to train and vaccinate them, but do not rely on those steps alone. You are ultimately responsible for any harm your pet causes to another person. And if you have been attacked and injured by a dog, contact the experts at The Cartwright Law Firm for a free consultation regarding your rights for compensation for all damages associated with an attack by a dog. We have the necessary experience to press your case and obtain the best possible outcome. Call us today.

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