Owner Liability for Dog Bites in California

Many of us have dogs, and we love them as if they were a part of our families.  As pet owners, we are responsible for our pets.  According to a personal injury attorney California is a strict liability state for dog bites.  This means that an owner cannot escape liability by claiming that he or she did not know that the dog could be dangerous or that they took care to prevent the animal from hurting someone.  As such, subject to certain exceptions, Civil Code section 3342 provides that the owner of a dog is strictly liable to a person who has been bitten and was either in a public place or “lawfully in a private place” when the bite occurred.  Therefore, an owner may be responsible for all damages resulting from a dog bite, even if the dog has not previously bitten anyone.

There are several exceptions to a dog owner’s strict liability pursuant to Civil Code section 3342.  A dog owner who can show one of the following exceptions can avoid being held strictly liable for his or her dog’s bite:

            (1)       The victim was trespassing;

            (2)       The dog was a law enforcement or military animal if the bite(s) occurred while the animal was defending itself from being annoyed, harassed, or provoked in the apprehension or holding of suspect, in investigating a crime or possible crime, in executing a warrant, and in the defense of a peace officer or other person;

            (3)       The person being sued is not the owner of the dog;

            (4)       The victim assumed the risk of being bitten, the “Veterinarian’s Rule”, which is a defense to strict liability, applies to veterinarians and kennel workers, who undertake these occupations knowing, foreseeing, and accepting that there is a risk of being bitten; or

            (5)       Comparative fault, another defense to strict liability, wherein the victim is partially at fault for the dog bite if he or she annoyed, harassed, provoked, struck, or hurt the dog that bit them.

It is important to point out here that strict liability above applies only to dog bites.  The strict liability statute mentioned above will not help victims who were injured by dogs who did not bite them.  For example, a person who is walking on the sidewalk and a dog jumps on him causing him to fall and hurt himself.  The injured person may be able to receive compensation in that situation if he can prove that the injuries he sustained were the result of the negligence of the dog owner in preventing the harm or that the owner knew or should have known of the dog’s viciousness.

If you have any questions regarding dog bites, please contact Dias Law Firm, Inc.

By: Ella R. Floresca, Esq.


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