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What Happens If You’re Attacked at the Dog Park?

By Allen Flatt Ballidis & Leslie on August 10, 2019

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If you’re the kind of person who visits dog parks, Orange County has some of the best!

Here in Newport Beach, where our law office is located, we’re not too far away from the dog park at Avocado Avenue and San Miguel Drive, across from Civic Center Park. It’s just over 4 miles away – a 15-minute drive (12 on a good day). It has an lovely ocean view and plenty of parking.

We also like taking our dogs to the beach itself before 10 a.m. or after 4:30 p.m., when the city allows it. Don’t worry, we keep them leashed!

But we also enjoy visiting several dog parks in surrounding cities, including Laguna Beach Dog Park, Huntington Beach Best Friend Park, Eisenhower Park, El Dorado, and Fullerton Pooch Park. These parks, which are all in a 20-mile radius, usually separate big dogs and little dogs, which keeps our four-legged friends safer… but not always.

Since dog parks are places where dogs can be off-leash and interact freely with one another, squabbles can and will happen. In this blog, we’ll go over the legal side of what to do if you or your dog is bitten in a dog park.

If a Person Is Bitten

California is a strict liability state when it comes to dog bites. California Civil Code section 3342 states that “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.” If you suffered a serious attack, this statute should work in your favor.

However, what signs are posted at the park? They may affect whether you “assumed a risk” by entering the park with your dog. Some signs contain waivers from liability that the defendant could argue make him not liable for your injuries.

If a leash was optional in the park, you cannot blame a dog owner liable for having his dog off-leash, like you would in a normal public situation. It’s no longer negligent for that person to have an unleashed dog, but it would be negligent for that person to have brought a dog that was aggressive, scared, poorly trained, or unsocialized and let it loose. However, proving what was and wasn’t reasonable is not easy. You have to do a substantial amount of digging and even hire a lawyer, and that will not be worth it for a small nip—but for an attack that sends you to the emergency room, don’t wait… call Allen Flatt Ballidis & Leslie!

If Your Dog Is Bitten

Because dogs are considered property instead of furry family members in California, getting compensation after your pet is attacked won’t be quite the same. We know vet bills can rise into the thousands of dollars, but until you pass $10,000 in damages, your claim will be handled in OC’s small claims court. You cannot take a lawyer, and you must serve the at-fault dog owner the paperwork, pay the filing fees and court costs, and calculate how much compensation to ask for.

However, many judges may consider a dog-on-dog attack in a dog park a “wash” since both owners were within their legal rights and the dogs were just behaving like dogs. It is very hard to prove which animal “started” the fight, and because of that, these cases are rarely solved to an owner’s satisfaction.

In Closing, Here Are Some Rules for Dog Parks

Good behavior in dog parks helps the community as a whole. Here are some guidelines:

  • Dogs should not be left unattended
  • Dogs must be currently licensed
  • You must pick up after your dog immediately
  • You must keep your dog on a leash while entering and exiting the park
  • If your dog is misbehaving or being aggressive, you should take it and leave the park
  • You should have a phone or camera to document things. For example, you can take a picture of the signage at the park, a video of another dog acting aggressively, or another owner failing to clean up after his/her dog.

Remember, after a serious bite, you should always reach out to an OC dog bite attorney as soon as possible. There are many things you can do right after an attack to bolster your claim, and we can help you do it. Call (949) 752-7474 right away!

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Posted in: Dog Bites


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