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Dog Law In California: what should you do if your dog is attacked by another dog?

Although we handle primarily automotive litigation cases, an interesting legal question was raised by a lemon law client of ours recently when her dog was attacked by her neighbor’s dog. As a result of the attack, her dog suffered life-threatening injuries, had to undergo serious surgery and to date is fighting for survival. The question posed to us was – What type of damages can I sue for, my dog is like a family member and we are heartbroken?! We decided to jump in and do the research for our client, especially because our lead attorney Hovanes Margarian also owns a dog (Ps. The giant yet kind creature you see in the picture with the attorney is his purebred Armenian Shepard’s dog called Gampr.)

And here is what we discovered on the legal side:

California law permits people whose dog was attacked by another dog to sue for damages. California law classifies dogs as personal property. Plotnik v. Meihaus, (2012) 208 Cal.App.4th 1590, 1606. Therefore, if a dog injures another dog, the defendant must bring a property damage lawsuit (or a less common action for “trespass to chattels.”)

When is an owner liable for a dog biting another dog?

Under California law, liability occurs when the defendant damages the owner’s property — in this case, the plaintiff’s dog — as a result of the defendant’s negligence. Jamgotchian v. Slender, (2009) 170 Cal.App.4th 1384, 1401. However, the defendant cannot be held legally liable unless:

  • The defendant had notice of the dog’s aggressive, dangerous, or vicious tendencies, or
  • The defendant was “negligent per se” because he or she violated a state or local animal control ordinance (such as a leash law) designed to protect human and health and safety. Roos v. Loeser, (1919) 41 Cal.App. 782, 785; but see Delfino v. Sloan (1993) 20 Cal.App.4th 1429.

What damages can be recovered when a dog bites another dog?

Damages that can be recovered for injury to a pet in California are usually for the greater of:

  • The reduction of the animal’s market value caused by the injury (most common with rare and
    valuable breeds), or
  • The reasonable and necessary costs of the animal’s treatment following the injury. Kimes v.
    Grosser, (2011) 195 Cal.App.4th 1556, 1559. (i.e., veterinary bills, dog medications, and
    kennel or animal hospital fees while the dog is recovering)

Additionally, it may be possible in cases of recklessness or an intentional attack for the defendant to recover: Damages for the intentional infliction of emotional distress, Plotnik v. Meihaus, (2012) 208 Cal.App.4th 1590, 1609 or Punitive damages. Civil Code § 3294

1. Does California’s dog bite law protect other dogs from injury?
No.  The state of California classifies dogs as the personal property of the owner. Therefore, an injured dog owner can sue under a property damage theory of liability.  The interference with the property must be “intentional.” This means as the owner of the injured animal, you must prove that the other owner had noticed the dog’s vicious tendencies.
Example: Tom takes Spot to the dog park to play with other dogs.  While in the dog park, Tom notices that Spot growls, snaps, or lunges toward other dogs.  Tom now has notice of Spot’s aggressive nature. Because Tom sees Spot acting aggressively towards other dogs, Tom is legally responsible if Spot attacks another animal.  However, if Spot had never shown signs of aggression prior to the incident, Tom is not liable for any damages because he did not have notice of the dog’s dangerous propensities.

2. Is a CA dog owner entitled to compensation for the loss of market value to the injured dog?
Yes.  The owner of the injured dog can seek a reduction in the animal’s market value as damages. The reduction of the animal’s market value means the owner of the dog will be compensated for the difference between the animal’s market value prior to and after the injury.
Example: Sally’s Pomeranian dog, Fancy, is valued at $1,000.00. Sally took Fancy to the dog park where Fancy was attacked by Spot.  Because of the attack, Fancy is now valued at $400.00. Sally would be entitled to $600.00 in damages, which is the difference between Fancy’s value prior to the incident ($1,000.00) and after the incident ($400.00).

3. Are the injured dog’s medical bills payable to the dog owner?
Yes.  The dog owner can still recover reasonable and necessary damages incurred for the animal’s treatment following the injury, including all medical, pharmaceutical, and boarding costs.
Example: Tom’s poodle Pluto was attacked by another dog.  Because of the attack, Pluto sustained $1,000.00 in veterinarian bills, $100.00 in medications, and $100 in boarding costs. Tom would be entitled to $1,200.00 in damages for the reasonable and necessary costs to repair Pluto’s injuries, including the medications and boarding costs.

4. Can I get damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress?
It is possible for the victim dog owner to get damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

To recover damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress, the plaintiff has to show that:

  1. The defendant dog owner exercised some sort of extreme and outrageous conduct, and either intended to cause, or recklessly caused, emotional distress to the owner of the injured dog;
  2. The owner of the injured dog suffered severe or extreme emotional distress; and
  3. The cause of the emotional distress was the defendant’s outrageous conduct.

Although there is no direct ruling on whether intentional infliction of emotional distress damages are available to an owner whose dog is attacked by another dog, the California courts have given economic relief to animal owners whose pets are injured by other humans. Therefore, it should be possible to get compensation if the injured dog owner can prove the
defendant’s extreme and outrageous conduct caused his or her injuries.

We at The Margarian Law Firm handle primarily Lemon Law, Dealer Fraud, and Consumer Class Actions. However, our central objective is to help consumers. Thus if you have any legal questions feel free to ask us. We will either refer you to someone who might know the answer or do the research to help you as much as we can.

And remember that under the CA Lemon Law and Dealer Fraud statutes consumer’s legal fees are shifted to the vehicle manufacturer/dealer. Thus, call us for a free consultation if you suspect that your vehicle might be defective or you were tricked by the selling dealership. 818.553.1000

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