Can you successfully bring a lawsuit if you are hurt by a dog jumping on you, while working at a veterinarian office as an assistant or veterinarian?

September 2, 2015 6:42 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

WILLENBERG v. THE SUPERIOR COURT OF LOS ANGELES COUNTY, 185 Cal. App. 3d 185, 229 Cal. Rptr. 625 (1986)

Can you successfully bring a lawsuit if you are hurt by a dog jumping on you, while working at a veterinarian office as an assistant or veterinarian?

No.

Are you responsible for your dogs unpredictable behavior of jumping on a veterinarian or veterinarian’s assistant?

No

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff a veterinarian had treated Defendant’s dog Pebbles throughout her puppyhood without incident, and the dog never exhibited any violent propensities. During a visit to plaintiff’s office on March 24, 1984, Pebbles got away from her owner leaped onto plaintiff. Plaintiff managed to fend her off but she jumped on plaintiff again, forcing plaintiff to “wrestle her down.” In doing so plaintiff injured his shoulder. Pebbles did not bite plaintiff.

The plaintiff in Nelson was a veterinarian’s assistant who filed suit after being bitten by a “patient” who had not previously exhibited any violent tendencies. The dog’s owners moved for summary judgment on the ground that dog bites were an inherent risk of the veterinary profession. In affirming the summary judgment in favor of defendants, the court, referring to the declaration of plaintiff’s employer, stated: “[I]t is generally accepted in the veterinary profession that any animal may react strangely or dangerously while receiving treatment, regardless of its behavior in the home environment. A veterinarian cannot assume a normally gentle dog will act gently while receiving treatment.” (Nelson v. Hall, supra, 165 Cal. App.3d at p. 712.)

COURT’S REASONING

The court relied on the Nelson case. Where the court concluded that a veterinarian or a veterinary assistant who accepts employment for the medical treatment of a dog, aware of the risk that any dog, regardless of its previous nature, might bite while being treated, has assumed this risk as part of his or her occupation. Here the court held that Nelson is dispositive of this case and the respondent court abused its discretion in denying defendants’ motion for summary judgment. The point of the Nelson case is that a visit to the veterinarian’s office can bring about unpredictable behavior in a normally docile animal, and this is an inherent risk which every veterinarian assumes.

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This post was written by Orange Dog Bite Attorney

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