The American Humane Society tells us that over four million dog bites are reported every year in the U.S. Are you – or your family – at risk? You’re about to learn what to do if a dog bites.

But first – to help us understand fully just how serious dog bites can be – take a look at these three disturbing statistics:

1. Thirty-four people died in the U.S. in 2015 as the result of dog bites.
2. Half of all dog bite victims in the U.S. are children.
3. Annually, over 800,000 dog bite victims visit ERs in the U.S.

What needs to be done when a dog bites? Can landlords and dog owners be held liable for injuries arising from dog bites? Can you protect yourself and your family from aggressive dogs?

Here are some tips – particularly if you are a dog owner, a landlord, or a parent in Orange County or the Inland Empire.

WHEN A DOG BITES SOMEONE, IS THE OWNER LIABLE FOR DAMAGES?

When someone is injured by a dog, who can be held liable for damages?

In some states, liability for dog bites can only be assigned to a dog owner if the owner had previous knowledge of the animal’s aggressive tendencies.

California is not one of those states, and that’s good news for dog bite victims.

It also means that California dog owners need to be aware of their duties and responsibilities.

WHAT IS STRICT LIABILITY?

California holds a dog’s owner “strictly liable.” That means dog owners are liable for injuries caused by their dogs without regard to the level of an owner’s fault, negligence, or knowledge.

In California, if you rent and you own a dog, consider renter’s insurance that includes dog bite liability, because you’ll be accountable if your dog injures someone or damages property.

You should also know that it may be difficult to find renter’s or homeowner’s policies that will cover Rottweilers, German shepherds, pit bulls, and several other statistically aggressive breeds.

WHAT SHOULD LANDLORDS KNOW ABOUT DOGS AND DOG BITES?

Residential landlords have to decide if they will allow tenants to own dogs. While some dogs and their owners pose no problem, in general, dogs raise the risk of injury and property damage.

California residential landlords need to understand fully that if a tenant lacks sufficient insurance coverage, a dog bite victim could name the landlord as a defendant in a personal injury lawsuit.

The courts have assigned liability to landlords in several dog bite cases.

If you knew as a landlord that a dog was aggressive, and you still chose to allow the dog on your property, depending on the other facts in a dog bite case, you could be ordered to pay damages.

If, as a landlord, you additionally take on a role as the dog’s caregiver, you’ll have the same liability as the dog’s owner.

California residential landlords should have clearly-articulated pet policies and enforceable leases reflecting those policies. They also need adequate liability insurance.

HOW CAN YOU KNOW IF A DOG IS ABOUT TO BITE?

It is essential – and especially for children – to know the warning signs that a dog is about to bite.

Before a dog bites, it might growl or bark menacingly, then lift its lips and bare its teeth. The dog’s body can freeze or stiffen, and hackles may rise on the back and neck.

While this describes most biting dogs, some dogs bite without warning. That’s why everyone should learn and adhere to these three basic rules for meeting a dog you don’t know.

1. Don’t touch or try to pet the dog.
2. Don’t make eye contact with the dog or approach it.
3. Don’t scream or run from the dog – instead, stay motionless and calm.

Teach children to avoid unfamiliar dogs, to ask for an owner’s permission to approach or pet a dog, and that even a familiar dog can be provoked if you’re not careful.

WHAT IS A DOG OWNER’S OBLIGATION?

Dog owners are obligated to keep their dogs from hurting others, and in California, strict liability encourages dog owners to take responsible measures to keep their dogs from biting.

Dog bites are sudden and unexpected. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how careful someone is or how responsible a dog’s owner is. Some dogs, sometimes, are just going to bite someone.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF A DOG BITES?

If a dog bites, get immediate medical treatment.

Some victims require immediate, extensive surgery and sometimes multiple surgeries followed by long-term therapy. In some cases, the doctor may decide rabies vaccinations are needed.

If there are witnesses to a dog bite incident, try to obtain their names and contact details. Their testimony or statements may be important later.

Take or have someone take photographs of your injuries – and the dog, if possible. Be sure that you keep all of the legal, medical, and insurance papers related to the dog bite.

AFTER YOU’RE TREATED FOR A DOG BITE, WHAT’S NEXT?

After you’ve been seen by a doctor, discuss your dog bite case – and your legal rights and options – as quickly as possible with an experienced Orange County personal injury attorney.

Your personal injury lawyer – a trained and experienced negotiator – will conduct negotiations with the insurance company while you concentrate on recovering your health.

If a just and adequate settlement amount is not offered – and it is, in nine out of ten personal injury matters – your attorney may recommend taking your case to trial.

After a dog bite, don’t agree to a settlement or sign any insurance document before you obtain legal advice.

If you do, you could be agreeing to a settlement figure that’s substantially lower than what your dog bite injury claim is genuinely worth.

You might also be signing away your right to file a personal injury lawsuit.

HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU HAVE TO TAKE LEGAL ACTION?

You have two years after the date of an injury to file a personal injury lawsuit under California’s statute of limitations. If you do not file a lawsuit within two years, you cannot recover damages.

If a dog bites you or a member of your family in southern California, don’t wait two years – or even two weeks – to speak with an experienced Orange County personal injury attorney.

A good injury lawyer will explain your rights and provide frank, reliable legal advice.

If you are a dog bite victim, the law in California is on your side. Get the legal help you need, and put the law to work for you.

By: Chris Purcell

Attorney Chris Purcell is a graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara College of Law. He exclusively represents the victims of personal injury and wrongful death. Chris was part of the team that won California’s largest-ever wrongful death judgment – a $150 million verdict for a family devastated by a tragic trucking accident. In 2011, he received the Top Gun Award given by the Orange County Trial Lawyers Association.