A dog biting a mail worker is not an urban myth. With 656 dog attacks on U.S. postal workers, California ranks No. 1 in the country, according to statistics released in conjunction with the USPS National Dog Bite Awareness Week, June 5-11, 2022.
Los Angeles ranked fourth among cities, with 44 dog attacks on postal workers. More than 5,400 mail workers were attacked nationwide in 2021. San Diego ranked 11th (tied with Columbus, OH). Dogs in Cleveland, OH gives that city a No. 1 ranking with 58 postal employees bitten.
Letter Carriers Are Vulnerable to Dog Bites
Dog bites are a serious risk for mail workers, particularly those who walk a mail route.
Nearly 40% of all U.S. households have at least one dog. Letter carriers are trained to be vigilant and to respect a dog’s territory.
Letter carriers are trained to do the following:
- Not startle a dog
- Keep their eyes on the dog
- Never assume a dog won’t bite
- Make noise or rattle a fence to alert the dog if entering a yard
- Never attempt to pet or feed a dog
- Place their foot against an outward swinging door
And dog owners also should not assume their dog won’t bite. According to USPS, many attacks reported by letter carriers came from dogs whose owners said they “wouldn’t bite.”
Postal Workers Aren’t Only People Dogs Bite
A woman in her 70s was bitten by a neighborhood dog in June 2022 as she was collecting recycling. The pet had apparently escaped its yard through a missing fence board. The woman was taken to the hospital and is expected to be OK.
The vast majority of dogs never harm anyone. When dogs do attack someone else, most victims will have grounds to seek compensation from the owners.
California’s Strict Liability Rule for Dog Bites
California is one of the states with "strict liability" dog-bite laws that make pet owners responsible for most dog-bite injuries. Whether the owners knew their dogs had ever bitten someone before is irrelevant in these cases.
The animal owner is strictly liable only in the following circumstances:
- The victim was bitten
- The victim was either in a public place or "lawfully in a private place" when the bite happened
The statute specifies anyone who's carrying out a legal duty (like delivering mail) is lawfully on private property. Strict liability does not apply to cases when a police or military dog bites as a direct part of its work in apprehending a suspect, executing a warrant, defending a peace officer, and other situations.
Strict Liability vs One-Bite Rule
While California follows strict liability, other states follow the one-bite rule. The victim has the burden to prove that the animal owner either knew or was negligent in not knowing the dog was likely to injure someone. However, if an owner knows the dog is a dangerous breed or could bite due to some factor, they could be liable for the dog’s first bite.
Most states follow strict liability for dog bites. However, these states follow the one-bite rule:
- New Mexico
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
Strict liability does not apply if the injured person was trespassing or provoked the dog.
Claims Can Be Filed in Attacks Without Biting
Biting is not the only form of injury that may qualify for a civil claim. For example, a dog can jump on a small child, forcing them to the ground and causing a head injury. An older person can become easily overcome by a dog that causes them to fall and break a bone. If the dogs were not properly restrained on a leash or behind a fence, the owners could be liable for the injuries.
At Palmer Rodak & Associates, we have more than 60 years of combined experience fighting for the compensation rights of residents in the San Diego area.
If you have been injured by a dog or other animal, schedule a consultation by calling (760) 573-2223 or completing our online form. We will evaluate your case and discuss the next steps.