Should I go to small claims or hire a lawyer regarding a dog bite?

I was bitten by a dog while walking on the sidewalk. The bite led to punctured skin and bleeding. 911 was called and an ambulance picked me up and drove me to the ER. I received treatment for my wound but did not receive stitches. The police filed a report and took my statement, the statement of an acquaintance who was also bitten, as well as the owner of the dog. The SPCA was contacted and quarantined the dog. I expect that my medical bills could be lower than the max amount of awards in a California small claims court.

Should I take my case to small claims or plan on filing suit for a larger claim? Should I request some form of punitive damages for the event if I go to small claims?

Asked on January 9, 2018 under Personal Injury, California


S.L,. Member, California Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

Prior to filing a lawsuit against the dog owner, it may be possible to settle the case with the dog owner or if there is applicable insurance, with the dog owner's insurance carrier.
If you have completed your medical treatment and have been released by the doctor, in addition to obtaining your medical bills, obtain your medical report, and if applicable, documentation of wage loss.  Your personal injury claim should include those items.
Compensation for the medical bills is straight reimbursement.  The medical report documents your injury and is used to determine compensation for pain and suffering which is an amount in addition to the medical bills.  Compensation for wage loss is straight reimbursement.
If the case is settled with the dog owner's insurance carrier or the dog owner if there is no insurance, NO lawsuit is filed.
If you are dissatisfied with settlement offers from the dog owner's insurance or dog owner if no insurance, reject the settlement offers and file a lawsuit for negligence against the dog owner.  Negligence is the failure to exercise due care (that degree of care that a reasonable dog owner would have exercised under the same or similar circumstances to prevent foreseeable harm).
If the dog does not have a history of biting, your lawsuit would be for negligence. 
If this is not the first time that the dog has bitten someone, in addition to your cause of action (claim) for negligence, you would have an additional cause of action (claim) for strict liability.  Strict liability imposes liability whether or not due care has been exercised.
You cannot recover punitive damages because punitive damages would require an intentional act.  Since the dog biting you was negligence on the part of the owner and not an intentional act, punitive damages are not applicable.
If the case is NOT settled, your lawsuit must be filed prior to the expiration of the applicable statute of limitations or you will lose your rights forever in the matter.
CA has a two year statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit in a personal injury case.  This means your lawsuit must be filed prior to the second anniversary of the date of being bitten by the dog.
If the case is NOT settled, it would be advisable to file your lawsuit in Superior Court because the amount you can recover in small claims court might not be enough to compensate you for your medical bills and pain and suffering.  It is advisable to be represented by a personal injury attorney.

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