The Insurance Information Institute ranks California as the state with the most dog bite liability lawsuits in America. Due to the nature of their jobs, police officers and other public safety officers are clearly at high risk for debilitating injuries from dog bites.
Dog bites in California are governed by a “strict liability” law on owners. That is why you should know who is liable for a dog bite if injured while at work, and the legal steps for filing a claim.
Section 3342 of the Civil Code in California addresses strict liability and places responsibility for a dog’s actions on their owners. The owner of an aggressive dog is liable in a civil lawsuit for the victim’s injuries. Whether the bite was caused by negligence, accident or by intention, the owner and possibly their insurance company will be held accountable for your injuries. You may claim compensatory damages for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, rehabilitation and other claims.
You have two years from the date of the dog bite to bring a civil lawsuit against the owner. If you have private insurance, you should review your policy to determine if you can file a separate personal injury claim against the owner.
The first exception to the strict liability rule is in regard to trespassers. But if you are a public safety officer carrying out your legal duty, you will likely not be considered a trespasser. For example, a police officer with a warrant or responding to an emergency call to a private home or is not trespassing and generally protected by law against such a claim.
Criminal charges can be filed against a dog owner as well, but those decisions are left to the local district attorney.
Animal bites can cause severe injuries to skin, bones and muscle tissue. Dog bites should be treated as an emergency; left unchecked you could be at risk for rabies and other deadly infections. Your supervisor or agency’s rules may not allow you to return to work until medically cleared.
As previously discussed, always keep records and receipts of doctor visits and prescribed medications. Also, keep a journal of your mental state as well.
The psychological trauma of being bitten or attacked by a dog should be considered and noted. Dog bite victims may develop cynophobia, which is a persistent and excessive fear while in the presence of a dog. If these and other symptoms last for more than a few months, you may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This condition could prevent you from performing certain duties, particularly if it means responding to emergency calls or walking a beat.
PTSD is generally covered by Senate Bill 542, which was signed in October 2019. This law establishes that a responder’s or officer’s mental health struggles are occupational injuries, which could qualify them for paid time off to recover.
Workers’ compensation is often the first source of insurance public safety officers seek following an on-the-job accident. But you should never assume that this sort of coverage will instantly be triggered. An immediate investigation can help establish liability for the bite and determine whether insurance coverage applies.
That is why PeacockLaw, a.p.c. typically files these injury claims within 48 hours of accepting each case. We exclusively represent public safety officers and are well-versed in your claims process. We lead the discussion and the negotiations, which often results in faster and larger insurance coverage payouts.
If you are a public safety officer and were injured on the job, attorney Mark Peacock can help you navigate the entire process. Contact us today.