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Can a plaintiff recover punitive damages for a dog bite from a tortfeasor who files for bankruptcy?

Los Angeles, CA |

Plaintiff files a personal injury claim against dog owner. In CA dog owners are strictly liable for injuries. The tortfeasor has no personal assets and as a result files for bankruptcy. The defendant as a result of the personal injury case files for bankruptcy. If in the personal injury case the plaintiff is awarded punitive damages, will the plaintiff be able to recover those punitive damages even after the defendant files for bankruptcy?

Attorney Answers 8


  1. First of all, you should determine and verify whether the dog owner has insurance coverage (usually homeowners) for the incident. If they do, you can apply for a relief from the automatic stay to assert a claim with the insurance carrier. If they don't have insurance, it would depend upon the facts. Certain debts related to intentional or criminal conduct are not dischargeable in bankruptcy however, this may require you to file a Complaint to Determine Dischargeability with the bankruptcy court and to obtain a judgment deeming the debt still due and owing and not subject to the discharge. This is usually fairly expensive as you would need to hire a competent bankruptcy attorney familiar with adversary proceedings and that type of lawyer usually charges by the hour (not on a contingency). Therefore, depending upon the cost of medical treatment and other damages, this may or may not be worth it. There are strict time deadlines on filing these various motions/complaints so, consult with an attorney immediately if you wish to pursue it.

    Nothing in this communication should be construed as creating an attorney client relationship. This is for informational purposes only. Attorney will take no action on your behalf unless and until a written retainer agreement is signed. There are strict time deadlines on filing claims and, as such, you are advised to consult with and retain an attorney immediately to file such claims timely or you will lose any right to recovery. Any testimonials or endorsements should not be construed as a guarantee, warranty or prediction of the outcome of your case.


  2. More information is needed about the particular facts and findings in your case concerning the defendant's conduction. You should consult with a bankruptcy attorney to determine whether the defendant in the dog bite case can discharge the obligation in bankruptcy.

    This information is not intended as legal advice or to create an attorney-client relationship between you and any attorney. Such information is intended for general informational purposes only.


  3. Damages resulting from willful and malicious conduct are not dischargeable in bankruptcy, although the injured part would have to file an adversary proceeding in the bankruptcy court to obtain a ruling of non-dischargeability.


  4. You should discuss the specifics of your case with a local personal injury attorney. I was recently referred a case where I was told that the tortfeasor filed for bankruptcy. There is a 100k auto policy and my client has a broken neck. When I took her deposition the other day, she testified that she never included our lawsuit or listed my client as a creditor, so she will be on the hook for any excess judgment. If you know you are listed as a creditor and the person was discharged, the general rule is that punitive damages are not dischargeable. A Ca bankruptcy attorney can best advise you of that issue.


  5. It is unlikely to have punitive damages awarded in a dog bite case, but there isn't enough facts here to address. If there are puni's awarded they will not be discharged through a BK


  6. Do you know that there is no homeowner's policy that will cover this. Strict liability does not mean that punitive damages should or would be awarded. In fact in is extremely unlikely. Its tough to get blood from a stone.

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