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    Do Doctors Need to Report Dog Bites in California?

The Short Answer is Yes – Doctors Are Supposed To Report Dog Attacks

A doctor examining an injured woman's shoulder. Do Doctors Need to Report Dog Bites in California?

First, a little background here. Medical doctors, including psychiatrists and others, including lawyers and priests, owe a duty of confidentiality to those who come in confidence. The idea is to encourage truthfulness because the person revealing secrets will be protected from any dire ramifications.

However, because of medicine, HIPPA laws, and other doctors’ need to share information learned about the public and other dangers, physicians do not have an absolute duty of privilege to keep secrets about certain dog bites.

Of particular interest, the state may require doctors not to keep confidences and secrets in some instances, such as contagions. Emergency room doctors providing patients with medical treatment face this dilemma often, discussed below.

Doctors in the U.S. and Canada have a special responsibility to their patients (imagine the doctor examining an infant with signs of molestation) and the public as mandatory and permissive reporters of violence and public dangers. Hence, doctors report dog bites all time and may have a duty to do so under relevant state and local dog bite laws.

  • Mandatory Reports: A mandatory report legally requires a doctor to report public interest dangers. California Teachers and doctors, for example, must report child abuse. California policy requires doctors to report dog bites due to the public risks of Rabies. The duties of a mandatory reporter may include documenting factual evidence, such as dates, times, and places of the dog attack, as well as the diagnosis and prognosis of the professional medical doctor’s opinions.
  • Doctors may even be required to tell the proper agency or local health department how many stitches were received by the victim. All this dog bite injury info goes in the police report. Failure to comply with the reporting process can even subject the doctor to criminal liability with the police department. So it’s a serious issue!
  • Permissive Reports: Opposite of a mandatory report are permissive reports. Some would say permissive reports are outright unethical. So these reports create ethical dilemmas. And this is because statements to a doctor in this gray area should be confidential unless the patient places them at issue (making a dog bite or car accident insurance claim, for example – would require your medical bills, treatment records, chart notes, etc.). Nonetheless, physicians can confidently share information they receive, even death reports, when they issue a discretionary, permissive report.

IMPORTANT! First, physicians must not violate their Hippocratic Oath. These doctors must do good and ensure that their patients receive the best possible medical care quickly. And speed is especially needed after a dog bite attack because of the violence in the episode and the potential for acute bacterial infections. The animal control office is entitled to this information under California law to protect the public.

But what happens if the dog owner or bite victim discloses the dog’s address and other information when discussing the patient’s condition with the doctor?

  • What if the patient does not want the bite reported to animal control or the police?
  • Or what happens if the victim does not want to make a fuss over the attack and refuses to turn over the dog owner’s information?
  • What happens if the victim knows the dog or dog’s owner and does not want it reported to Los Angeles County animal Services?
  • What happens when the victim, a family member, and the pet owner agree not to tell the authorities?

Well, from the doctor’s perspective, the short answer is that it does not matter. No matter what, physicians must exercise clinical judgment in unclear cases where violence is at issue or if reporting is legally required. Analyzing the situation should benefit the patient and contribute to California’s public safety.

The patient can play dumb and initially refused to identify the dog’s location. But once the patient spills the beans, it’s getting written down into the Health Department designee “Report.”

Doctors Have A Special Responsibility As “Dog Bite Reporters”?

To recap. Make sure and be careful what you tell a doctor. Accurate doctors must ensure that their patients receive first aid and are well attended to. But doctors are also mandated by California state law to report all cases of a dog attacking a human that requires medical attention in a “Rabies Area.”

And there are no exceptions. Often this role is filled by the victim or the doctor contacting animal control. In some cases, both parties will make reports on their own.

The Code Of Regulations Requires Any Dog Bite In A Rabies Area to Be Reported?

According to Section 17 of the California Code of Regulations 2606, doctors and anyone designee must immediately report dog bites in a designated County Rabies Area to a local health officer or their designee. (A designee can be a private non-profit group, or a small city, such as Redlands, could lease health services from a County agency, for example).

What California Counties Are Rabies Areas?

In California, a “rabies area” is defined as a county where Rabies remains a public health hazard. And the person responsible for declaring what counties are Rabies Areas is the California State Department of Health Services Director.

The official history is that since 1987, all 58 counties in the Golden State are Rabies Areas as declared by the past and present Directors. (Click here for a list of all 58 Counties).

What Evidence Must A Mandatory Dog Bite Report Contain?

Los Angeles County, the City of Los Angeles, and almost every other jurisdiction above have a similar procedure. First, you will find it remains standard to report dog bite mishaps to the local health official or health department.

And some of these smaller departments use private kennels and other agencies as their designee. And this is common in San Bernardino County, for example.

Ultimately, the report lands in the in-basket of Animal Control agents, and these employees will send them via fax or over the world wide web in many designated counties. So it depends on the rules.

A Typical Dog Bite Report Will Include the following:

  • Date, time, and place of the assault.
  • The Bite victim’s name and relevant contact info.
  • The victim’s parent or guardian info will be used, assuming the minor received bites.
  • Dog owner’s contact info, if available.
  • Dog’s breed and general description.
  • Wound site description, such as hand or limb damage, and diagnosis
  • Notes on dog bite treatment, such as vaccination injections, the number of stitches used to patch the patient up, etc.

The physician’s contact information and other persons reporting the attack should be provided.

No matter what, physicians must report any California patient’s dog bites as documented in the medical evaluation or treatment regimen. And there is no requirement that the injury be severe, even if no rabies were present.

The hospital must immediately transmit the physician’s hospital report to the Health Department for the local County or City’s agents, local health officials, or designees.

According to the CDC, mandatory dog bite reporting helps identify and stop the spread of diseases like Rabies and tetanus. But ethically, a doctor does not have to report when a dog assaults another animal. Other than that, any bite report must go to the official health official or its designee.

For example, in Sacramento County, the bite to dog bite victims must be promptly reported to the Dept of Animal Care, as cited on their website. All of these cases in the state of California are clear. The medical professional maintains a special obligation to let the government know. And this allows animal control to record that the dog attacked a person during the dog bite incident.

And if the dog does so a second time, it will be put down. Furthermore, medical reporting of a dog bite in California creates a record for potential use in a civil or criminal lawsuit.

Conclusion – A Dog Owner Might Be Reported Over Dog Bite Incidents

Documentation is vital for both the dog owner and the bite owner– and doctors should not shirk their responsibility to either. If you wish to learn more about dog bites or general California personal injury laws, contact us at (213) 596-9642 or by using our online contact form for a free consultation today.

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Michael Ehline

Michael Ehline is an inactive U.S. Marine and world-famous legal historian. Michael helped draft the Cruise Ship Safety Act and has won some of U.S. history’s largest motorcycle accident settlements. Together with his legal team, Michael and the Ehline Law Firm collect damages on behalf of clients. We pride ourselves on being available to answer your most pressing and difficult questions 24/7. We are proud sponsors of the Paul Ehline Memorial Motorcycle Ride and a Service Disabled Veteran Operated Business. (SDVOB.) We are ready to fight.