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If I suffer a dog bite, can I sue the dog's owner?

While known as man's best friend, every dog has the capacity to bite. A dog bite injury can leave an individual with painful wounds that require immediate medical attention as well follow-up medical procedures like plastic surgery. In addition to the physical scars, the mental scars associated with a dog bite injury may leave an individual traumatized every time one encounters a dog.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 4.5 million people in the U.S. suffer dog bite injuries annually. Of these, roughly 20 percent require a trip to the doctor or hospital emergency department. In the wake of a dog bite or attack, the first priority is making sure an individual is out of harm's way and that his or her wounds are attended to. However, what happens to the dog and the dog's owner?

Under California's strict liability law, a dog owner whose dog bites another individual is responsible for related monetary damages. There are, however, certain conditions that must be met. For example, the strict liability law does not pertain to individuals who are bit by a dog after trespassing or unlawfully entering a home.

In some cases, a dog bite victim may also choose to pursue legal action to prove a dog owner's negligence. In order to prove negligence, an individual must provide evidence that a dog owner failed to abide by state or specific county dog care ordinances related to dog restraints.

In some cases, a dog bite injury case may center on a dog that previously bit someone or was reported as a dangerous or aggressive dog. If a dog's owner is notified that a dog is declared "vicious" or "potentially dangerous", he or she is required to take steps to ensure that a dog is properly restrained and secured. If a dog that is "potentially dangerous" or "vicious" subsequently bites or attacks someone, in addition to civil liability and negligence charges, the dog's owner may also face criminal charges.

Source: FindLaw.com, "Orange County Dog Bites: The Basics," 2015

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