Incident at the park...

by Justin
(Ventura, CA)

A few weeks ago, my dog was playing off leash with two other dogs at the local neighborhood park at dusk. One of the other dogs was a dog I was watching; the other was one that was off leash when we got there.

I made verbal contact with the owner of the other dog and we both watched as the dogs got acquainted. She threw the ball for hers, and my friend's dog chased after hers, while my dog wandered around. We chatted for a while and it got a little darker. Now, the dogs were chasing each other around on the field.

At one point, I saw all three dogs heading straight for the woman - who was not looking at them because she was turned away picking up her leash - with my dog in the lead, looking back at the dogs chasing him.

When I saw them rushing toward her, I yelled to the woman "Watch out!" but it was too late. All three of them crashed into her at a pretty high speed, hitting her in the knee and knocking her over. She seemed to be in a great deal of pain, but she got up after a little while. Since my dog was in the lead, she is claiming my dog is the only one that hit her.

Who is at fault here? Is it our legal responsibility to pay her medical bills? How would this situation best be handled? Thank you.

Visitor Question:
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ANSWER for "Incident at the park...":

Justin (Ventura, CA):

From the facts you present, all three dog owners may share liability for the woman's injuries and resulting medical bills and costs. While it is understood dog parks exist for dogs to exercise and play, dog owners remain responsible for the property damage and injuries their dogs cause.

Furthermore, the woman who was injured did not contribute to her injuries. And your yelling to attempt to gain her attention does not diminish your liability.

First, check with your homeowners insurance. Many policies cover injuries inflicted by dogs owned by the homeowner or the owner's family members.

Next, speak with the injured woman. Ask her if she will give you some time to consult with the other dog owners to see if they will agree to share liability and divide the medical bills. If she agrees, visit with the other dog owners to see if they will agree to contribute to the payment. If one or both other dog owners agrees to contribute, then pay the injured woman with the aggregate funds.

In the alternative, if the injured woman will not agree to give you time, and insists you pay her, you can choose to agree or disagree. If you decline to pay her, she may consider suing you. You must be prepared for that eventuality.

The prevailing statute is California Civil Code Section 3342, which reads in part:

"(a) 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,..."

Technically your dog didn't bite the injured woman, and as a result, you may have a valid defense under the statute itself. However, absent the statute's application in this case, the woman may still have grounds to recover compensation based on the existence of negligence in your failure, and that of the other dog owners, to restrain your dogs.

If your negotiations with the woman are not successful, you should consider seeking the advice and counsel of a personal injury attorney for your defense. This is especially required if the compensation demanded by the woman is substantial.

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Judge Calisi

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