Understanding California Dog Bite Laws

California Dog Bite Law

When Is A Dog Owner Responsible for Your Dog Bite Injuries?

Understand that there are different laws for dogs and wild animals when it comes to attacks. This is a background on California dog bite laws.

While nobody likes to think about the risks of a dog bite when adopting a pet or visiting a friend or family member with a dog, the reality is that dog bite injuries happen more frequently than many Californians would like to think. According to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), around five million people suffer dog bite injury every year in the U.S., and some of those bites are serious enough to require treatment in an emergency room. In some cases, especially those involving young children, dog bites are fatal.

What are California dog bite laws, and how do they apply to people who get hurt in dog attacks?

Current California Dog Bite Laws – The First Bite Counts

Injuries caused by dog bites can be quite serious and often require medical attention. Because of this, the issue of liability (who is responsible for paying for injury treatment) comes up frequently in dog bite cases. The California Civil Code addresses this question directly. In short, an owner is liable for a dog bite when:

  • A bite from the owner’s dog caused the injuries
  • The injured person was in public or legally in a private place at the time of the bite

Note that the law only covers injuries that were the result of a bite. The same law does not cover behaviors like jumping, scratching, and running into people. This does not mean you can file a claim for injuries related to these behaviors, of course. It simply means it would be a different type of personal injury case.

Owners who have dogs who have previously bitten before having a greater responsibility to keep the public safe from their dog. California Law requires that they take any reasonable steps necessary to remove the danger their animal poses to other people. A second bite will often trigger an investigation into the treatment of the animal. If the owner has trained the dog to fight or attack or is otherwise treated poorly, the person may have to forfeit the animal. They could also face serious charges.

Where the Bite Occurred

Earlier we explained that the bite had to occur on public property or in private where the victim was permitted to be. This means that the victim was invited onto the private property or otherwise had permission to be there.

So, if the person injured by the dog was trespassing or otherwise breaking the law by not having permission to be on the property, the may have no claim at all.

Identifying the Dog Owner

One common issue, especially when a dog bite occurs in a public place, is identifying the owner of the dog. After a bite, it is important to find out who owns the dog that bit you.

[Dog Owner Information Form]

Of course, if the bite caused severe damage, you may worry more about getting treatment. In this case, you should remember any details about the dog and people you saw the dog with at the time of the bite. You may also want to ask someone at the scene for help finding and contacting the owner.

When a dog does has a history of violence, under California law (Civil Code § 3342.5), the owner has a “duty to take such reasonable steps as are necessary to remove any danger presented to other persons from bites by the animal.”

If a dog owner fails to take steps to prevent a dog bite, persons other than those who have been bitten also may be able to file a claim against the dog owner in order to get the court to step in and take action.

Strict Liability or Negligence

California is what is known as a strict liability state when it comes to dog bites and injury lawsuits.

What is strict liability?

California dog bite law (Civil Code § 3342) states that the owner of a canine is liable for the damages incurred by any person who is bitten by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property owner of the dog, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of such behavior.

Under the criteria, we established, if your dog bites somebody you are liable. Remember, not being aware that the dog may bite is not a valid defense. But what happens if your injuries aren’t from a bite, but were still caused by a dog?

In these cases, negligence comes into play, there is no strict liability. This means that you, as the victim, must prove that the dog owner failed to use reasonable care. You must also show that this led directly to the injuries. For example, suppose a dog excitedly jumps on you, knocks you over, and scratches your face while trying to play. You must demonstrate that the owner failed to use reasonable care by not restraining the dog on a leash or keeping it in a fenced in yard.

In the past, an owner had to have known that their dog posed a bite risk to others before they were liable for an attack. However, changes to the law mean that this is no longer the case. Even if a dog has never been aggressive or bitten a person in the past, an owner may be liable for any and all bites. In other words, all that needs to happen for you to pursue legal claims related to a dog bite is for the dog to bite you.

In other words, for a dog owner to be liable for injuries caused by a dog bite, the injury victim does not have to prove that the owner was negligent in any way or that the owner had any previous knowledge that the dog had a propensity for viciousness. To be sure, the owner of a dog that previously showed absolutely no signs of vicious behavior can be liable for injuries if the dog bites. This is what strict liability means: there is no need to prove negligence, only that the defendant owned the dog and the dog bit.

Filing a Claim When a Dog Does Not Bite But Causes Injury

What do dog biting laws in California have to say about situations in which a dog causes injury to someone but not because of a bite? For instance, can an injury victim file a claim if a dog owner failed to properly leash his or her dog, and the dog ran out in front of the injury victim while she was on a bicycle and caused a crash?

Just because a dog did not bite—and did not attack—does not mean that the owner cannot still be liable. In the type of scenario described above, the dog owner would not be strictly liable for the plaintiff’s injuries, but the dog owner still could be held liable through a personal injury claim based on a theory of negligence.

Under California Code of Civil Procedure § 335.1, the plaintiff would have two years from the date of the accident to file a claim against the dog owner.

Contact a California Dog Bite Injury Lawyer

Were you recently attacked by a dog? If you suffered serious injuries, it is important to learn more about your rights under dog bite laws in California. An experienced California dog bite injury attorney can discuss your case with you today and can explain your options for obtaining compensation.

Contact The Beliz Law Firm to learn more about the services we provide to injury victims in California.

In many cases, it is the best course of action to get in touch with a California dog bite attorney after a bite. Not only will they fully understand California dog bite laws, but they’ll know the best course of action to take with your case.