NORTH COUNTY TIMES Staff Writer Michael Williams reported that Carrie McKinney, a Point Loma woman in her early 20’s, will loose custody of her 6-month-old son after he was mauled by two pit bulls on April 3. The attack happened when the infant was left alone in a carrier on the floor of a friend’s apartment in Murrieta, according to police. The dogs tore off the child’s diaper and bit his scrotum after which he was rushed to Loma Linda University Medical Center where he underwent surgery. Lance Brown, chief of pediatric emergency medicine at the hospital, stated that if the child were castrated he would require a lifetime of hormone replacement therapy and possible reconstructive surgery. “While such an injury is not life-threatening, it is massively life-altering,” he said. The two dogs will be quarantined and then euthanized at the regional animal shelter in Lake Elsinore.
Applicable California Law
California Civil Code3342. (a) provides that 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. A person is lawfully upon the private property of such owner within the meaning of this section when he is on such property in the performance of any duty imposed upon him by the laws of this state or by the laws or postal regulations of the United States, or when he is on such property upon the invitation, express or implied, of the owner.
California law imposes strict liability on the owner of a dog who injures another. Unlike most types of personal injury matters which require an intentional or negligent act, in cases involving dog attacks the owner is responsible whether or not he or she believed the dog was dangerous. In this particular instance the dogs’ owner were not specifically identified however, if her friend’s dogs were the ones that attacked the boy, hopefully there is adequate insurance or other resources to compensate the victim. However, the owner of the apartment building could be held liable if they knew of the dogs’ dangerous propensities.
“[A] duty of care may not be imposed on a landlord without proof that he knew of the dog and its dangerous propensities. Because the harboring of pets is such an important part of our way of life and because the exclusive possession of rented premises normally is vested in the tenant, we believe that actual knowledge and not mere constructive knowledge is required. For this reason we hold that a landlord is under no duty to inspect the premises for the purpose of discovering the existence of a tenant’s dangerous animal; only when the landlord has actual knowledge of the animal, coupled with the right to have it removed from the premises, does a duty of care arise.” Uccello v. Laudenslayer (1975) 44 Cal.App.3d 504
With the great number of dogs in our communities, dog attacks are more common than most people realize. Being a dog owner myself I am extremely sensitive to the need to monitor pets at all times. Even the most docile animal, given the right circumstances, can harm other animals or people, that is why constant vigilance is a necessity. Dog attacks can cause serious physical and emotional injury, but knowing who should be held responsible is not always clear. Having the benefit of personalized representation from an experienced personal injury attorney is crucial.