dog bite injury

Can I Get Punitive Damages for a Dog Bite in California?

Although it rarely happens, it is possible to get punitive damages for a dog bite in California. The facts must be extreme and unusual to qualify for an award of punitive damages in these cases. You must show with clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted maliciously in causing you to get attacked by the dog.

These cases are challenging. A California personal injury attorney can answer your questions about getting punitive damages for a dog bite in California.

What Clear and Convincing Evidence Means

Usually, the standard of proof required in a civil case like personal injury is a preponderance of the evidence. Preponderance of the evidence means that you put on enough believable evidence that the judge or jury finds it more likely than not that what you claim is true. To prove something to the standard of clear and convincing evidence means that you must convince the court that the truth of what you allege is highly probable.

If you are seeking punitive damages in a dog bite case, only the grounds for punitive damages must be established by clear and convincing evidence. For the rest of the case, the standard of preponderance of the evidence is sufficient.

When California Law Allows Punitive Damages

California only allows judges or juries to award punitive damages if there is clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with malice, fraud, or oppression or the defendant’s actions were despicable. The defendant’s conduct would have to be shocking to the conscience.

In the situation of a dog bite case, here are a few scenarios that could form the basis for an award of punitive damages:

  • The defendant targeted a specific individual and directed the dog to attack.
  • The defendant instigated the dog attack to further an illegal purpose or criminal activity.
  • The defendant did not target a specific individual, but acted in disregard of the health or safety of others by taking a dog known to be vicious to a location where there were other people. 
  • The defendant had a history of previous dog attacks that involved severe injuries to the victims.

Even in these situations, there is no guarantee that the victim would receive punitive damages. The jury or judge will have to make that decision.

Damages Allowed in Dog Bite Cases in California

Even if you cannot recover punitive damages for a dog bite in California, you might be able to collect other types of money damages. The types and amount of compensation you could get will depend on the specific facts of your situation. Every dog bite case is different.

Here are some of the common categories of money damages people seek in dog bite cases:

  • Medical expenses to treat the dog bite wounds. This category could include the initial medical care as well as follow-up interventions like skin grafts and plastic surgery.
  • Lost wages. You might be able to add to your claim the income you lost in wages, salary, self-employment, or other forms of regular income because of the dog attack, medical treatment, and recuperation time.
  • Pain and suffering. Merely paying the medical bills does not adequately compensate the victim for the physical discomfort or emotional distress of a dog attack.
  • Other intangible losses. A vicious dog attack could cause significant disfigurement from scars. Also, many people develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and fear of animals and public places after a severe dog attack.

A California personal injury attorney could talk to you about your situation and evaluate the types of damages you could pursue in your dog bite case. Contact our office today for a free consultation.