When Is A Dog Owner Responsible for Your Dog Bite Injuries?
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 and
- 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 cannot 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.
Know Your Rights After a Dog Attack in California
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What Counts as a Dog Bite?
A dog bite is defined as any time a dog uses its teeth to grasp another person or closes its jaws around a part of a person’s body. A dog bite does not need to penetrate the skin to be considered sufficient to sustain a personal injury claim. Some dog bite victims hesitate to seek medical treatment or document their injury if it does not require stitches. However, a dog bite can inflict injuries without breaking the skin. Contact our team at The Beliz Law Firm today to discuss dog bite laws in California.
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.
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 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. 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.
California Dog Bite Laws for Dangerous Dogs
California designates some dogs as dangerous or “vicious” dogs. California Civil Code § 31603 defines vicious dogs as those who inflict severe injury or death on a human being in an aggressive manner and without provocation. Additionally, a dog is considered vicious if it is listed as a potentially dangerous dog and after its owner or keeper was notified of the determination. A dog may be determined potentially dangerous if it:
- Does something that requires a person to take defensive action,
- Is involved in two separate instances of aggressive behavior within three years, or
- Causes non-severe injuries to a human being,
If you want to know which dog California dog bite statute applies to your case, contact our attorney today.
When Will a “Dangerous Dog” be Euthanized?
California dog attack laws allow the state to euthanize a dangerous dog if it poses a significant threat to members of the public. Signs that a dog may pose a risk to the public include:
- The dog attacked someone without provocation,
- Dogs who killed or injured other animals in the past, and
- A dog owner’s failure to follow restrictions placed on the dog by the court.
If a person’s dog is deemed a vicious dog and euthanized, the state can prohibit the dog owner from getting another dog for three years.
Civil Liability vs. Criminal Liability Under California Dog Bite Laws
Strict liability only applies to civil claims against the dog owner. The decision to file criminal charges against the dog owner lies solely with the district attorney’s office. In a civil claim, the burden of proof is lower than the burden of proof in a criminal case, which requires showing the dog owner’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Filing a Claim When a Dog Does Not Bite But Causes Injury
What do dog bite 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.
Compensation for Victims Under California Dog Bite Liability
As stated above, dog owners are financially liable for the losses suffered by the victim due to the dog bite. In many cases, the dog owner’s insurance company will pay these funds on behalf of the dog owner. Compensatory damages you may be able to recover include:
- Lost wages,
- Loss of earning capacity,
- Medical expenses,
- Rehabilitation costs,
- Loss of the use of a limb, and
In addition to compensatory damages, you may be able to recover non compensatory damages which are related to pain and suffering.
While no amount of money will heal the injuries caused by a dog bite, recovering a fair settlement offer can help you pay the expenses you incurred due to your injuries.
In cases of severe neglect or malice, dog bite victims can seek punitive damages. Punitive damages are designed to punish the dog owner and deter similar conduct in the future.
Understand Your Rights Under California’s Dog Bite Law
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 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.