County may be liable for dog attack, where dogs had been reported before

If an individual is attacked by a vicious dog, it seems clear that the owner should be held liable for any resulting injuries. However, are there other parties, in addition to the owners, who might also have contributed to the injuries?

The California Court of Appeal case of Christian v. County of Orange provides an example where a county government might also have responsibility for a dog bite incident.

A brutal attack on the street

On a city street in Laguna Hills, the victim was brutally attacked by three large mastiff dogs that escaped from the yard of their owners. The victim was treated over a lengthy period of time due to extensive injuries.

Approximately nine months earlier, the dogs had been reported to the Orange County Animal Care Services Unit because a man had been bitten trying to break up a fight between the dogs and his own dog. In addition, the dog has escaped the yard on several prior occasions, including when a neighbor reported being stranded on the hood of her car after one of the dogs entered her garage.

The victim sued the county, claiming it was negligent in conducting the investigation of the earlier dog fight incident. If the investigation had been properly conducted, her attack could have been avoided.

The trial court, without hearing any written or oral argument, dismissed the victim's case on the basis that the government was provided with immunity in this matter under the law. The victim appealed, seeking her full day in court.

Could the county be liable?

The California Court of Appeal had to determine if immunity under the law prevented the county government from being sued for its possible negligence. The key to determining this was reviewing the county's written policies regarding vicious dog investigations. If the county employees' duties in this area were "ministerial"-that is mandatory-rather than discretionary, then the county could be liable.

Based on the county's own policies, the dogs should have been classified as vicious or potentially dangers after the incident in which they attacked the other man's dog. The language of the policy was mandatory and the animal control officer who had investigated the earlier incident did not have the discretion to determine that the dogs were neither vicious nor potentially dangerous. Thus, his actions were not protected by governmental immunity.

Thus, the trial court's premature dismissal of the personal injury case was reversed, and the victim would have another opportunity to make her full argument in court.

Compensation for your injuries

If you or a loved one has been injured due to a dog bite or attack, you should seek the advice of an experienced personal injury attorney. The dog's owners, as well as any other negligent parties, should be held accountable for your injuries.