Under California law, dogs are viewed as property, and people who suffer as a result of a violent dog may file insurance claims for possible financial reimbursement. (Shutterstock)

Under California law, dogs are viewed as property, and people who suffer as a result of a violent dog may file insurance claims for possible financial reimbursement. (Shutterstock)

Financial compensation may be possible in wake of dog attack

Insurance company could pay medical expenses, or for emotional distress

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By Christopher B. Dolan and Aimee Kirby

Adriana from the Bay Area writes: On May 25, 2020 we brought our small dog Piper to a dog park. We have visited this park a number of times and never had an issue. The dog park has a section for large dogs and also a separate section for smaller dogs, to keep everyone safe. While my husband and I were in the small dog park, an elderly woman entered the small dog area with what looked like a Shepherd mix that was about 50 pounds and a Chihuahua. Having the big dog in the small dog park immediately concerned me. My husband and I decided to leave. As we were putting on Piper’s leash, the Shepherd mix suddenly darted toward Piper and grabbed her neck. In a matter of seconds, blood was everywhere and my husband and I were desperately trying to get Piper out of the dog’s mouth. The owner of the dog just stood there screaming and crying. The dog ended up biting both of us as we tried to rescue Piper. Before we left my husband took a picture of the woman’s car insurance card, and she told us she had homeowner’s insurance with the same company. We rushed Piper to her vet, but her injuries were so significant and she was in so much pain, the doctor advised us to put her down. We are both very upset and don’t know what can be done to hold this dog owner responsible.

Dear Adriana: I am so sorry to hear what occurred to poor Piper. Our dogs are like members of our family and seeing them in pain is hard for us. The law hasn’t really caught up to how we, in our hearts, feel about our animals. Our little furry family members are still considered property under the law, and the food, training and hours of love that we put into making them happy are not something the law recognizes as damages in California. Neither is the immense joy and love that they provide to us.

Insurance companies will reimburse you the cost of repair or replacement of your property. It is immensely sad that the law does not recognize that we see our pets different than our cars.

Under negligence and strict liability legal theories, you may have a potential claim for any physical injuries you and your husband suffered by the dog attack on this day. California law defines negligence as the failure to use reasonable care to prevent harm to oneself or to others. A person is negligent if he or she fails to do something that a reasonably careful person would do in the same situation. In California, you aren’t required to prove that someone acted unreasonable to seek your damages, as we have a strict liability regarding dog bites. Strict liability imposes liability by the act itself, and you don’t have to prove the owner acted unreasonable to seek this damage.

In addition to being able to seek compensation for your veterinarian bill, when you are ready to welcome another dog into your life, and with regard to your own medical expenses and pain and suffering, you also may have a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress. Negligent infliction of emotional distress allows you to collect damages for witnessing your husband getting bitten and damages for him for watching you get bitten. We often refer to this claim as a bystander damage claim.

You were very wise to get a picture of the insurance card. If you do a web search for the carrier, often times, you can submit your claim online through a portal on the company’s webpage. You may need to submit your veterinarian bill, pictures of your injuries and any medical bills or records that document your losses. If you missed work, the insurer will want to see a paystub to determine your rate of pay and a medical provider note verifying you needed the time off. Sometimes the carrier will ask for your statement or for you to sign authorizations to get your medical records.

You are not required to give a statement and you are not required to sign authorizations. Once the carrier has this information, it will make you an offer based on the damages presented. Remember you are not required to accept the first offer, and can negotiate with them. Once a final number is agreed upon, a release will be sent. Once the release is signed, the insurance company will forward the settlement proceeds.

When a case resolves, meaning you have signed a release and received the settlement, that will be the total amount of money your will receive. You cannot come back and seek additional sums for injuries that get unmasked later as you begin moving farther away from this loss. It is very important you know the full nature and extent of your injuries. We are very sorry for the loss your family has suffered and give you strength in this difficult time.

Christopher B. Dolan is the owner of Dolan Law Firm, PC. Aimee Kirby is a managing attorney in our Redondo Beach office. We serve clients throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and California. Email questions and topics for future articles to: help@dolanlawfirm.com. Our work is no recovery, or also referred to as contingency-based. That means we collect no fee unless we obtain money for your damages and injuries.

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