Dog sitters and walkers are a huge help to millions of pet owners. These pet sitting services have seen an enormous 68% increase in use over the past 30 years! At the same time though, who is liable for a dog bite if that dog is in the care of a dog sitter?
California has experienced a sharp rise in severe dog bites. Stories of horrific dog mauling’s are becoming much more common to see on the nightly news. Many insurance companies now consider California the #1 state in the nation for dog bite claims.
Dog bites don’t just happen under their owners’ care. They sometimes occur when a friend or pet care professional is watching the dog. Here’s what usually happens in various situations involving pet sitters and dog bites.
California Has Strict Liability Laws for Dog Bites
First, you should know that California has strict liability for dog bites. This means an owner can be held strictly responsible for dog bite injuries whether they were physically present at the scene of the bite or not.
Also, a victim doesn’t have to prove that the dog had any history of biting or aggressiveness. One bite is enough, so it’s meaningless if the owner says, “But he’s never bitten anyone before!”
However, there are still certain defenses to dog bite liability that can hold up in court. A dog’s owner might not be held responsible for a biting dog when:
- The victim was teasing or provoking the dog.
- The victim was a trespasser on the dog owner’s property.
- The dog was protecting someone in a legitimate self-defense situation.
- There was an inherent risk of dog bites, like in veterinary medicine or dog grooming.
When dog owners are held liable for bites, they often handle dog bite claims through their homeowner’s insurance or private/commercial property insurance. It depends on factors like where the bite occurred and who was involved.
Dog Bites and Pet Care Professionals
For pet care professionals, California courts generally take the view that pet sitters and dog walkers accept the risk of being bitten by dogs when they enter the line of work. If a dog bites a professional pet sitter, it’s extremely difficult for them to successfully sue the dog’s owner.
This is different from a situation where a dog bites someone else while under a pet sitter’s care. If the dog walker is taking a stroll with the dog and it bites a neighbor, the neighbor may be able to secure a claim against the dog’s owner, the dog walker, and/or a dog sitting company that employed the dog walker.
California’s strict liability doctrine allows a pet sitter to be held responsible for a dog bite if the animal was under their care and control when the bite happened. The pet sitter could be ordered to pay for the victim’s emergency room bills, rabies shots, stitches, surgeries, scar care, rehabilitation, lost wages, emotional injuries, pain and suffering, and property damage.
A pet sitter who works for a pet care company might be able to pass the liability and cost on to their employer. If the pet sitter works for a company like Wag, Rover, or a local dog-walking service, the bitten victim can pursue the company for payment through its insurance carrier.
Some pet sitting services are more willing to cover dog bite claims than others. For example, Rover has a $1 million Rover Guarantee that includes dog bites. But Wag declines liability for dog bites and puts the responsibility on the individual dog sitter.
When the Pet Sitter Isn’t a Professional
These situations don’t always involve pet care professionals who advertise their services on a commercial basis. Legal liability can fall to a friend, family member, or almost anyone else who provides dog care as a favor or for payment.
If the pet sitter is under age 18, California’s vicarious liability doctrine places the legal and financial burden on the minor’s parents. Therefore, if a dog bites you while a child is walking it, the child’s parents could be held responsible for your damages.
As you can see, there are many factors to consider when it comes to dog bites and pursuing compensation. At Sally Morin Personal Injury Lawyers, our team handles many areas of the law, including California dog bites that involve pet sitters. We believe you should be able to focus on recovering while we handle the legal details. Call 877-380-8852 today for a free case evaluation.