What accounts for fully one-third of all homeowners’ insurance liability claims? Surprisingly, the answer is dog bites. In 2010, dog bite claims totaled $413 million in the U.S., according to the Insurance Information Institute. In fact, California has the unenviable distinction of leading the country in dog bite insurance claims, with 369 claims costing approximately $11.3 million from one insurance company (State Farm) alone.

And those figures are just for the claims that are covered by insurance. Every year, some 800,000 Americans are treated for dog bites, nearly half of whom require a trip to the emergency room. Dog bites can leave lasting physical and emotional scars, particularly among children, who account for about half of all dog bite injuries.

When Is a Dog Owner Liable for a Dog Bite?

Traditionally, owners of dogs were liable for dog bites and other injuries to people only if it could be proven that they knew their dog had a propensity to bite — in other words, only if the dog had bitten someone before. This is sometimes known as the “one free bite” rule, since it didn’t really penalize the dog’s owner until the second incident.

Fortunately, California is one of many states that have enacted a dog bite statute, which makes the dog’s owner liable for the injuries caused by the dog regardless of whether or not there have been any previous attacks. California animal bites attorneys help individuals bring personal injury claims against the owners of the dogs that bite them.

In some serious dog bite incidents, the legal consequences can be even greater. One San Francisco woman was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to four years in prison when her dogs attacked and killed a woman in the doorway of her apartment. Her husband faced lesser charges but was also sentenced to four years in prison.

In a current case from Parlier, California (near Fresno), a 16-year-old girl was walking near the public high school when she was attacked by a pack of wild dogs. The school was home to an animal farm, which attracted the wild dogs to a nearby fenced field. The girl had been walking near the fence and did not know that the dogs could slip under the fence and get to her. Now, the school district is facing charges that it knew about the wild dogs (which, in previous years, had killed several sheep and goats being raised by the students on the animal farm) but had failed to take steps to remove them from the area.

As these cases show, dog bites can be very serious, and those responsible for the dogs can be held liable. If you or someone you know has been injured by a dog bite or other dog activity, talk to an experienced California dog bite attorney.