Dogs are man’s best friend, so it often comes as a shock when we’re reminded just how dangerous they can be. Dog bites are scary incidents. Between the shock and the rush for medical attention, it can easily slip your mind that you will need to take legal action to recover the damages you’re suffering.
So just how long do you have before it’s too late to do anything about your dog bite? The answer to that is intimately tied to what we call the statute of limitations. We’ll be exploring this concept and how it relates to dog bite claims below. We’ll see how long we have to file a dog bite claim, what happens if we wait too long, as well as what circumstances could extend the statute of limitations, and then finish on a look at when you should file a dog bite lawsuit for the best results.
What Is the Statute of Limitations on a Dog Bite Claim?
We can find the relevant information to answer that question under California Civil Code 335.1. This section of the civil code informs us that dog bite claims fall under the same statute of limitations as assault, battery, wrongful injuries, and wrongful death. The reason for this is because a dog bite injury is considered an injury wrongfully caused by another party.
This means that a dog bite, for the purposes of a lawsuit, has to be due to another’s negligence. So if you’re a mailman dropping off a package and you get bitten, this would count. But if you’re bitten while trying to break into or trespassing on the property then the dog bite wasn’t due to negligence at all.
Should the dog bite meet the criteria for negligence then you would generally have two years from the time of the injury to press a claim. The time of the injury means exactly what it sounds like it does. The clock starts ticking the moment the teeth sink in. However, every case and situation is different, therefore the statute of limitations may be different as well. In some situations when a public entity is involved, you may only have 6 months to file a claim before your rights are compromised.
This might sound like a lot of time. But, as you’ll see, it’s not a good idea to wait around too long before deciding what to do.
What Happens If the Statute Expires Before I File My Lawsuit?
If you fail to file your dog bite lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires then there is nothing that you can do about it. Your lawsuit will be dismissed. Simply put, the statute of limitations is an absolute rule. That means that there will be absolutely no exceptions to the rule unless another law allows.
Even if you only missed the statute of limitations by a single day, the case will be thrown out. There is nothing that can be done about the statute of limitations, it doesn’t give people a chance to squeeze in quickly. If you miss the statute of limitations, you have missed your chance at a lawsuit.
Now there are very rare exceptions to this. One is if you were a minor at the time of the dog bite. If so, then you could have a lot more time. The statute of limitations does not start counting down until you become an adult. So that means that if you were bitten by a dog when you were sixteen, you would have two years before the statute of limitations began to count down and another two years before you ran out of time to press a lawsuit.
This only applies to minors, however. Before a lawsuit is filed, some investigative work needs to be done to discover who the owner of the dog is. While that may sound easy, in some cases it is incredibly difficult. Nobody wants to admit that their dog was the one that did the dirty deed and so getting information on the incident can prove to be difficult.
When Should I File a Dog Bite Lawsuit?
Filing a lawsuit and acting on an injury should be seen as two different things. The right time to start moving towards legal action because of an injury like a dog bite is right away. That means more time to investigate the incident to find witnesses or other forms of evidence to strengthen your case.
But a large factor in injury cases is the injuries, their healing, and their costs including loss of work and treatment itself. So for the best possible case, you want to wait until your injuries have been diagnosed and treated before you file the lawsuit itself. However, you are limited in the amount of time you can wait by the two year statute of limitations. For more serious injuries, this can mean that treatment is still an ongoing process and you aren’t quite finished. It is better to move than to miss the window of opportunity.
Of course, the specifics of your particular situation will largely be what drives the decision of when to file the lawsuit. But filing of the lawsuit may not happen as quickly as you expect when you get legal representation. The process of preparing is extremely important but often overlooked by many who aren’t so familiar with our legal system.
Do I Need a Dog Bite Attorney?
If the circumstances match those that allow for a dog bite lawsuit, then an attorney is an important tool to acquire. They’ll help you to investigate and build solid arguments that the court will respond to and these are often the difference between a pretty good case and a rock solid one.
Of course, you may not know if the particulars of your injury make for a good dog bite case. The best thing to do if you aren’t sure is to reach out to an attorney. Many will offer free consultations and these are useful for determining whether you should press a lawsuit. If you aren’t sure about your dog bite, then seek a free consultation and get an expert’s opinion on the matter.