“Damages” in the context of a legal claim or a lawsuit means one or both of the following:

  • The monetary equivalent of the legally recoverable losses
  • The legal categories of the losses

Common examples of damages in a dog bite case include the following categories of losses:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of income and/or future earning capacity
  • Disability
  • Wasted expenses (of vacation, etc.)
  • Medical treatment costs, both past and future

Limits on damages

Damages are determined by a jury but must be within reason. The closing arguments in a civil case focus on what the amount should be. Although the attorneys and insurance companies have decades of data to establish the proper amounts of damages in almost every situation, none of that information can be presented to the jury because the law believes that every jury must apply current community standards to every individual case. For that reason, jury verdicts sometimes can be unusually low or high. 

In dog bite cases, there are no limits against ordinary dog owners, and punitive damages are allowed if the victim can meet the general requirements for the same. In some situations, however, damages are limited by law: the monetary amount might be “capped” or certain categories of losses might be unavailable. When suing the government, for example, damages might be “capped” at $250,000.00 and punitive damages disallowed.

When a dog is the victim, most states limit the amount of damages to the fair market value of the dog, although a growing but small number put the “cap” at the actual veterinary medical expenses if they exceed the fair market value. Additionally, categories such as pain and suffering are disallowed in most states, while others have begun to allow “sentimental damages.” Punitive damages are allowed under the general law of the state as well as specific statutes pertaining to animal cruelty. 


Interest can be an item of damages in certain types of cases but a tort victim usually cannot collect it. Here are examples derived from California law:

  • California Constitution, Article 15, Section 1 provides the rate of interest of 7% upon the loan or forbearance of any money, goods, or things in action, or on accounts after demand. See California Constitution, Article 15, Section 1, for the exact and complete language. 
  • Civil Code Section 3287 provides how a party may obtain interest on awarded damages. See Civil Code Section 3287 for the exact and complete language.
  • Civil Code Section 3288 “In an action for the breach of an obligation not arising from contract, and in every case of oppression, fraud, or malice, interest may be given, in the discretion of the jury.”
  • Civil Code Section 3289 provides that any legal rate of interest stipulated by a contract remains chargeable after breach, and also provides if no interest rate is provided in a contract 10% interest shall be awarded after breach. See Civil Code Section 3289 for the exact and complete language. 
  • Civil Code Section 3290 “Accepting payment of the whole principal, as such, waives all claim to interest.”
  • Civil Code Section 3291 provides there is no pre-judgment interest on a personal injury cause of action, and also provides how interest is awarded based upon a Code of Civil Procedure Section 998 offer. See Civil Code Section 3291 for the exact and complete language.

Punitive damages

Punitive damages are rarely awarded in a dog bite case. See Punitive Damages

Legal brief on damages – California

Civil Code section 1714(a) states in pertinent part: “Everyone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person.”

Civil Code section 3281 provides: “Every person who suffers detriment from the unlawful act or omission of another, may recover from the person in fault a compensation therefor in money, which is called damages.”

The damages for which the tortfeasor is responsible is an amount sufficient to compensate for all the detriment suffered by the victim. Civil Code section 3333 provides: “For the breach of an obligation not arising from contract, the measure of damages, except where otherwise expressly provided by this Code, is the amount which will compensate for all the detriment proximately caused thereby, whether it could have been anticipated or not.”

Under Civil Code section 3333, “[t]ort damages are awarded to compensate a plaintiff for all of the damages suffered as a legal result of the defendant’s wrongful conduct.” (North American Chemical Co. v. Superior Court (1997) 59 Cal.App.4th 764, 786 [69 Cal.Rptr.2d 466], italics omitted.)