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Cypress Police Face Legal Claim After Police Dog Bites Woman

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A 22-year-old woman who was bitten by a police dog while sleeping in the garage of a Cypress home, has filed a legal claim against the city and the police department, The Orange County Register reports. Apparently, the police department’s German Shepherd bit Alicia Quinonez at about 2 a.m. on August 16, 2008.

According to Quinonez’s claim, she went to the hospital with severe bites to her leg, but police officers say her injuries seemed to be minor. Officers had permission from the homeowner to enter the home as they were looking for a robbery suspect. The homeowner forgot to tell officials that Quinonez was sleeping in the garage. Quinonez who was understandably startled when she woke up and saw the animal, screamed and was bitten. Her lawyer, April Blackman, has said she is trying to settle the case with the city for this Cypress dog attack.

California is one of the states with a strict liability dog bite statute, which basically means that the dog’s owner is responsible for any injuries caused by his or her dog. However, police agencies do have some immunity under the law. California Civil Code section 3342 section (b) states that legal action may not be brought against any government agency using a dog in military or police work if the bite or bites occurred while the dog was defending itself from an annoying, harassing or provoking act, or assisting an employee of the agency in:

• Apprehending or holding a suspect • Investigation of a crime or possible crime • Execution of a warrant • Defending a peace officer or another person
However, according to section (c) of that same code, this immunity is negated in any case “where the victim of the bite or bites was not a party to, nor a participant in, nor suspected to be a party to or a participant in, the act or acts that prompted the use of the dog in the military or police work.” The immunity will apply only where a government agency using a dog has adopted a written policy on the necessary and appropriate use of a dog to conduct its business.

The protection to the police department and the city provided by this code section becomes negated because Alicia Quinonez was not a suspect. She wasn’t aiding a suspect or party to any suspected crime. She was simply sleeping in the garage!

Her being there had nothing to do with the police’s business. It appears to me that California’s strict liability statute could be applied in this case. It would be the city’s best interest to settle this case with this plaintiff and later come up with a plan to make sure they provide adequate training to their K-9 officers to prevent such incidents.

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