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Bitten by a Service Dog? Might Be Time to Call a Lawyer!

By Allen Flatt Ballidis & Leslie on July 29, 2019

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Who doesn’t want to cuddle a puppy with a wagging tail or a toy dog held in its owner’s arms? In fact, for dog people, there is no canine alive that doesn’t get an “Awww!” But our law firm wants to remind you that you shouldn’t pet just any animal!

Dog bites are a serious issue in Orange County and throughout Southern California. Orange County averages more than four dog bites each day, which is more than 1,500 per year! And that’s only the bites that are reported to Mission Viejo Animal Services and OC Animal Care. Combined, those two organizations deal with only 19 of Orange County’s 34 cities, which means the actual daily number of dog bites in the county is likely much higher.

Under California’s strict liability law (Civil Code Section 3342), a dog’s owner or handler can be held responsible for injuries caused by their dog, regardless of whether that dog has bitten someone before. It also doesn’t matter if the owner or handler didn’t know that the dog would act aggressively.

However, there are three scenarios where the person responsible for a dog cannot be held liable for that dog’s attack. They are when the victim was trespassing, taunting the dog, or being physically aggressive toward the owner. Another exception is made for police or military dogs performing in a law enforcement capacity.

What if I’m attacked by a service dog or an emotional support animal?

Yes, you can file a personal injury claim. Service dogs and emotional support animals (ESAs) are subject to California’s strict liability dog bite laws.

Can a property owner be held liable even if the dog that bit me wasn’t their dog?

Yes. Under premises liability law, landlords and homeowners can be held liable for any hazards on their property, if they knew (or should have reasonably known) about the hazard. So, if an apartment manager knows a tenant’s dog has the tendency to bite or be aggressive toward children, and allows it on his property anyway, where it mauls a child, he could be held liable to the victim and family.

However, if the attack occurred on public property, such as a restaurant or retail store, there may be exceptions.

You’ve probably noticed that there are a lot of service dogs and emotional support animals (ESA) in public places. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the owner of a public property cannot deny entry to a person who needs a service dog. Hence, the property owner would probably be exempt from liability in these cases. The same cannot be said about ESAs. Let’s look at the difference between the two:

First, a service dog can be no other type of animal other than a dog, where an emotional support animal (ESA) can be nearly any type of animal. Second, service dogs are highly trained to help people with recognized disabilities. This would include:

  • Seeing-eye dogs for the blind
  • Hearing dogs that alert deaf people of noises such as doorbells or alarms
  • Assistance dogs that perform services like picking up objects or towing wheelchairs
  • Medical alert dogs that detect when a person is about to have a seizure or other type of episode

Emotional support animals do not need any special training and the certification process is nowhere near as rigorous as it is for service dogs. In fact, there are many websites where a person can get an ESA certificate immediately, without ever seeing a doctor. This is not considered legitimate certification, but most property owners, and really more people, do not know the difference.

If you’ve been bitten by a service dog or an ESA, you may be entitled to significant compensation for your medical bills, pain and suffering, emotional trauma, lost wages, and more. To find out if you have a case, contact our experienced OC dog bite lawyers at Allen Flatt Ballidis & Leslie at (949) 752-7474 for a free consultation.

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Posted in: Dog Bites


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