Visitor Question

Dog jumped up and crushed my teeth…

Submitted By: Anonymous (San Mateo, California)

On September 10th, 2015  I was walking in front of my house when my neighbor approached. She was walking her dog. The dog was on a leash. As the dog owner approached, her dog suddenly and without provocation jumped up, striking me in my head and face area.  The force of the blow was so intense it crushed several of my teeth. My mouth was bloodied and the pain was intense. 

It has now taken over a year of dental work, including multiple root canals, treatment of infections, and tooth extractions, to partially heal. To date I have incurred 6 thousand dollars of dental bills. My dentist tells me to complete the dental work will require the implantation of several teeth. The additional cost for the implants is estimated to be $5000.

My neighbor offered me $800 dollars toward the dental bills. She also filed an injury claim for me with her  homeowners insurance company. The insurance company denied the claim saying their insured (my neighbor) was not liable.  Do I have any legal recourse? What should I do? Thank you.

Disclaimer: Our response is not formal legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. It is generic legal information based on the very limited information provided. Do not rely upon the information in our response, or anywhere else on this site, when deciding the proper course of a legal matter. Always get a personalized case review from a local attorney.

Answer

Dear Anonymous,

Article 2 §3342 (a) of the California Civil Code states in part:

“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, including the property of the owner of the dog, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness.”

Based on the facts set out in your question, your neighbor appears to be liable for your injuries and resulting dental costs. The former viciousness of the dog is irrelevant under the law, but may be of value in a civil lawsuit against your neighbor.

While your neighbor may have had homeowners insurance at the time of the attack, she was not obligated by law to file a claim for your injuries, nor was she legally obligated to assist you in filing a claim. However, she did file a claim. Unfortunately, it was denied.

If the dog owner and her homeowners insurance company continue to refuse to help you pay for your dental costs, you can consider filing a small claims lawsuit. California courts have jurisdiction to hear civil lawsuits up to $7,500.

For help filing a small claims lawsuit go to the California Courts Judicial website. There you can read more about the polices and procedure in Small Claims Courts. You can also download the forms you may need.

California Small Claims Courts are less formal than higher courts. In most cases, plaintiffs and defendants do not bring attorneys to court with them. Judges in these courts relax the rules of evidence and procedure so the litigants can be concerned with presenting their sides of the case without worry about hearsay objections, evidentiary matters, and other rules set out under California laws. Once the dog owner has been served with the lawsuit, she may decide to cooperate.

If you intend to pursue a small claims action against the dog owner, you must be aware the State of California has a two (2) year statute of limitations on personal injury claims. This mean you must either settle your injury claim with the dog owner, or file a lawsuit before September 10th, 2017.

If you file a lawsuit before September 10th, 2017 you preserve your legal rights to continue the lawsuit for as long as it takes to resolve it. This is because when a lawsuit is timely filed, the statute of limitations is “tolled.” To be tolled means you are not bound by the time restrictions set out in California’s statute of limitations.

Hopefully, the matter can be settled amicably and without having to litigate in court.

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

Best of luck,

Published: June 29, 2017

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