Life's Toughest Challenges
Don't Have to Be Faced Alone
We Can Help

Emotional Trauma After a Dog Bite: Recognizing and Pursuing Damages

Latest News

Dog bites often create emotionally fraught injury claims, full of shock, horror, guilt, and anger. Bite victims may be attacked by dogs they trusted, or at least owned by people they trusted, resulting in feuds and bitterness. Many other victims are young children who never had the chance to learn anything else about dogs. Early dog attacks can create lifelong phobias and trauma. And at any age, scarring or permanent disfigurement takes a psychological toll.

But bite victims may also feel guilt about seeking damages from someone they know—or they may be frustrated and angry at a defiant owner. They may feel social pressure to forgive or to accept a private payoff instead of legal action.

Emotional distress is a recognized claim for damages for personal injuries in California. In some cases, close relatives who witnessed an injury can make their own claims for emotional distress.

Pet owners who saw their beloved animals attacked or killed by dogs may also have grounds to sue.

How can dog attack claimants seek the resources to recover in the way they need to?

California Law on Dog Bites and Attack Injuries

Under state law, “the owner of any dog is liable for the damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog …” See Cal. Civ. Code § 3342.

It does not matter if the dog has ever shown any “viciousness” before. California has no “one-bite rule” that spares owners from liability for the first bite. However, if the bitten person provoked the dog before it bit, the owner may not be liable for the full damage claim. In any case, after a dog’s first bite, the owner does have a duty “to take such reasonable steps as are necessary to remove any danger presented to other persons from bites by the animal.” Cal. Civ. Code § 3342.5.

Although the law is clear on that point, dog attack injuries don’t always involve bites to a person. Claw lacerations can result in scarring or infections, and when a dog knocks someone down—even just in play—they can break bones or cause head injuries.

An attack victim can still recover for this kind of injury, but they will need to show that the owner was negligent in restraining the dog. If they knew or should have known that the dog could cause injury, they had a duty to keep others safe. This is also how pet owners can recover for dog attacks on their own dogs, cats, or domestic animals. In some instances, a landlord may be liable for a tenant’s dangerous dog.

Emotional Distress and Tort Law in California

In a personal injury case, a claimant’s total monetary claim generally consists of two kinds of damages: economic damages and non-economic damages. These are sometimes called “special” and “general” damages.

Economic damages cover concrete, tangible losses, such as:

  • Medical expenses, including travel necessary for treatment
  • Home health care and non-prescription drugs
  • Lost wages or earning opportunities
  • Losses and expenses due to disability
  • Property damage—which, in the case of a dog attack on a pet, would include veterinary expenses and any loss of market value

If a claim comes with an invoice, or if it can be projected using past pay stubs or other records, it is part of the claimant’s economic damages.

Non-economic damages compensate for intangible losses that can’t be quantified, such as:

  • Emotional distress, also referred to as “mental anguish” or “pain and suffering
  • Shame or humiliation
  • The effect of permanent disfigurement
  • Loss of enjoyment of everyday life

These are separate from economic claims, although they can be related. For example, bills for therapy and counseling for PTSD would be part of an economic damages claim, but the emotional pain is part of the non-economic damages claim.

How Your Damages Claim Will Work

A dog bite is the kind of injury typically covered by homeowners’ or renters’ insurance. Although a personal injury attorney can usually help you at any step of the way, it is wisest to speak to an attorney before making an insurance claim—especially where damages are intangible or cannot yet be determined. An attorney will be able to walk you through the incident, advise you on what you are owed, and help you put together the information you need.

To make a solid claim for non-economic damages, a claimant must show some evidence of their intangible losses. You can do this by:

  • Keeping a journal, recording the effect of your injuries on your mental state
  • Presenting statements from family or colleagues attesting to your mental difficulties
  • Collecting evidence of hobbies or other pastimes you used to enjoy but can no longer take part in after the attack

Insurance companies will seek any possible way to avoid payouts. When they know they are obligated to pay, they often try to lowball claimants, leaving them with a settlement that does not cover present or future difficulties. And in the case of dog bites in public places, the owner may be difficult to find or speak with. An attorney can help you by conducting investigations, managing the painful business of negotiations, and, if necessary, filing a lawsuit.

At V&A Law Firm, we handle these matters every day. If you or a loved one has been attacked by a dog in the Los Angeles area, we would be glad to talk to you. Call us at 818-369-3270 to make an appointment for a free consultation.

Related Articles