Dog bites can be dangerous, sending thousands of people in California to the emergency room every year. These bites often cause serious injuries and may be fatal. Injuries such as amputations, nerve damage, and brain trauma can last a lifetime. However, the window to file a dog-bite injury lawsuit is small. You generally have two years from the date of the bite, but a few exceptions can pause the clock.

The Statute of Limitations for Dog Bites in California

Each state has its own statute of limitations for personal injury cases. In California, the window is two years, which is fairly typical. It also applies to other types of injuries dogs can cause. For instance, a dog might knock you over or scratch your face instead of bite you.

Can You Miss the Deadline?

If you wait too long and the filing deadline passes, the dog’s owner is likely to ask the court to dismiss the case. Unless some type of exception applies, you can expect the request to be granted. Dismissal usually means no other legal options to pursue compensation for injuries, lost income, and other types of damages.

How Can You Make Sure You Meet the Deadline?

Talk with an attorney who handles dog bite cases as soon as possible. Someone who is experienced in these processes can make sure you do not miss any deadlines and can guide you through the various steps and help gather evidence.

One reason why some people miss the deadline is this: They initially think their injuries aren’t that bad or won’t last too long. By the time they realize the effect the dog bite is having (or is likely to have) on their health, income, relationships, and many other aspects of their lives, the filing deadline has passed.

Many types of personal injuries can be misleading. It is best to be safer and seek medical and legal advice than to wait.

Another reason people miss deadlines is they think the dog bite was their fault (when it wasn’t or they were only partially liable). Similarly, they may think they can sue only if the owner knew the dog was dangerous. California’s strict liability means the owner can be responsible even if the dog never acted dangerously before. However, the penalties can be worse if the owner had prior knowledge.

An attorney would ideally have at least a few months to assess the merits of the case and accept it, investigate what happened (including gathering witness statements, reports from the police or animal control, and photographs of injuries and the scene), collect medical documentation, talk with medical experts, determine liability and insurance coverage, and many other aspects of a case.

What Are the Exceptions to the Two-Year Statute of Limitations?

If the clock pauses (“tolls”), you may have more time to file a lawsuit. The exceptions vary by state, though. A dog bite lawyer in California is in the best position to discuss the particulars of your situation.

Generally, if the victim is younger than 18 years old when the bite occurs, the statute of limitations will probably toll until the child turns 18. This can be especially significant since many dog bite victims are children.

There are about 125 emergency room visits for dog bites per 100,000 California residents. Children 0 to 9 years old have 154 dog bite ER visits per 100,000, while it is 128.2 for children 10 to 19 years old. Young adults 20 to 29 years old may be most at risk, though, with 162 visits per 100,000 residents. In any case, child victims should have until their 20th birthday to file (they become legal adults at 18, when the two-year statute of limitations begins ticking).

Another common exception is if the dog’s owner leaves the state after the bite and before you can file a lawsuit. The statute of limitations may pause until the owner returns.

Tips for Building the Strongest Case Possible

It is important to file a case on time. Being proactive about other areas such as medical documentation also helps you build the strongest case you can. As soon as possible after a dog bite or dog injury, try to do these things.

  • Seek medical attention, even if you have only slight pain or discomfort.
  • Take photos of your injuries and any evidence such as torn clothing. Photos of the scene can be helpful, too.
  • Gather the names and contact information of the dog’s owner (if possible) and any witnesses.
  • Report the dog bite to the police and local animal control.

Another step is to discuss your situation with a personal injury lawyer. This is ideally before you file an insurance claim against the renter’s or homeowner’s insurance of the owner or file a lawsuit in court.

Contact a Dog-Bite Injury Lawyer Today

A personal injury attorney who specializes in dog-bites can assess your case and guide you through the many complexities. Contact us at the Law Offices of Brent D. George for a free consultation.