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Liability of Dog Owner for Dog Bites: Pit Bull Attacks on the Rise

| Nov 12, 2014 | Firm News

There has been a recent spike in new stories surrounding pit bull attacks in Southern California.  The owners of these dogs bear substantial responsibility when their dog bites and injures another person or fatally attacks and kills and may face criminal liability when the dog has previously attacked others or has a history of reports to animal control.  As experienced dog bite attorneys in San Diego and Riverside, below we discuss the liability of a dog owner by reviewing a recent tragic case of a pit bull attack in the news.

Recently, a California man was killed and his 77-year-old mother was injured after they were mauled by a pack of four pit bulls owned by a neighbor.  The victim died of multiple traumatic injuries suffered from the dog’s attack at his home in the city of Modesto. His mother was hospitalized in critical condition and was in a medically induced coma.  The victim, Juan Fernandez, was attacked and had made it to safety in a shed when the dogs turned on his mother, and he courageously exited the shed and acted to stop the pack of dogs from attacking his mother, Maria Fernandez.

When the police arrived they found the man being mauled by three pit bulls in the backyard of his home and a fourth pit bull circling him. Deputies shot and killed two of the dogs. The other two ran off to an adjacent yard but were later shot to death when they charged deputies trying to capture them, sheriff’s officials said.  A representative of the Sheriff’s Department said: “I have never seen this level of viciousness in any animal.”

Investigators determined that the dogs were owned by the victims’ neighbors and got into the victims’ yard through a common fence. A man who said he rented a room on the victim’s property said the victim had been arguing with the neighbor for at least a month about the dogs, which he said had become increasingly aggressive.

California is a strict liability state when it comes to assessing liability for a dog bite.  Thus, there will be civil liability on the part of a dog owner, provided that the victim was not trespassing, provoking the dog, injured by his employer’s dog while on the job, or performing a paid service involving the dog.  Additionally, there may be criminal liability where you can establish negligence on the part of the owner, such that the owner knew or should have known of the dogs violent nature to establish the owner should have taken precautions to protect the public from their dog.  This is generally evidenced when the animal has had prior contact with animal control officers relating to attacks, bites or vicious behavior, prior to the attack at issue.  A dog owner is not just negligent when they know their animals could endanger someone’s life, but will also likely face criminal liability.

Here, the owner of these dogs should have known of the extremely violent nature. Based on news reports, these pit bulls had escaped several times before and once killed a small dog.  The owner also had four pit bulls.

Arguably, owning four pit bulls that have violent tendencies is extremely dangerous, arguably reckless. I know many dog lovers have loving pit bulls as pets and it is true that any breed can deliver a fatal bite.  Thus, we are not simply picking on pit bulls.  However, the website dogbites.org tracks death by dog, documenting 32 fatalities in 2013. Of those, 25 (78 percent) were attributed to pit bulls.  Further, a Centers for Disease Control study in 2000 documented fatal attacks by dogs. The overwhelming majority of fatal attacks in the study came from larger animals – German shepherds, Dobermans, Rhodesian ridgebacks. But all paled in comparison to pit bulls and Rottweilers – those breeds caused 67 percent of human fatalities.

Additionally, the owner of the dogs could have taken simple precautions to prevent the dogs from escaping, such as chaining the dog or securing the pit bulls inside of his property.  The owner of these pit bulls will bear substantial civil liability including payment of medical expenses and pain and suffering to the mother who survived the attack and substantial damages relating to the wrongful death of her son due to their dog’s vicious attack.

If you have been injured by a dog bite or an animal attack, hold the owner of the dog responsible. You are entitled to receive payment for your medical bills, pain, and suffering, or loss of a family member who was killed.  You can also prevent the dog from ever biting another person.  If you would like to discuss your legal rights contact one of our experienced dog bite lawyers in San Diego or Riverside.  We are available to answer any of your questions.