Each state in the U.S. assigns a statute of limitations on personal injury lawsuits. That means you only have so much time after the incident in which to file a lawsuit. In California, you have 2 years after an injury has occurred to file a personal injury lawsuit against the individual you feel is the negligent party.
Here, RMD’s dog bite lawyers cover several of the basic aspects of California dog bite laws and what to do if you’ve been bitten by a dog.
Strict Liability and California Dog Bite Lawsuits
Strict liability is applicable in dog bite lawsuits. Strict liability means that the injured party does not need to show that the owner was negligent in order to prove their case. They only need to prove that they were injured by the owner’s dog. This means that it doesn’t matter if the owner had “no idea” that the dog would behave in such a manner. The owner is liable for all injuries regardless of the dog’s past behavior.
There are restrictions, however. The injured party must have been on either public property or private property that they were legally allowed to be on. This includes the owner’s own property.
In other words, the victim cannot have been trespassing. If the injured-party was trespassing, the owner has a clean defense for explaining the dog bite. The plaintiff is liable to not collect anything for their damages.
Defenses to Dog Bite Lawsuits
As stated earlier, California’s dog bite statute requires that an injured-party is on property legally when they were bitten by a dog. If they were not, then they have failed to prove their case. They may have other legal remedies, but not under California’s dog bite statute.
So, the only complete defense that California offers in dog bite cases is trespassing. However, provocation can still be raised by a defendant against an injured party.
If the owner of the dog claims that the injured party teased, abused, or otherwise provoked the dog in some way, the plaintiff’s award may be reduced to the point of being fully liable for their injuries.
Police and Military Dogs
If an individual is attacked by a police or military dog in the execution of its duty, they may not sue under California’s dog bite law.
California makes it very clear who can sue under strict liability. Those who fail that metric may have other legal recourse but must now prove negligence. This is harder because it includes an extra step. The injured party must prove that the owner failed a standard of care that put others at risk and that failure resulted in their injuries.
Negligence has four elements which you must prove:
● Duty. The dog owner owed you a duty of reasonable care.
● Breach. The owner’s conduct fell below this standard of reasonable care.
● Damages. You suffered a legally-recognizable injury, such as physical injuries requiring medical treatment.
● Causation. The owner’s breach must have caused your injuries.
Many dog bite cases revolve around the second element—whether the owner was sufficiently careful in controlling their dog in situations where it is reasonable to expect they can cause injury. This type of analysis will depend on the particular facts of each case. For example, letting a dog run up to a strange child could be negligent depending on various factors, such as the size of the dog and how the dog behaves around children.
California Evidence Code section 669 also provides that any violation of an ordinance or statute will qualify as a failure to exercise due care. This means that if your city or county requires that dogs be on leashes, then an owner is negligent per se when they let the dog run without a leash.
When to File a Dog Bite Lawsuit in California
If you’ve been bitten by a dog, the best time to file a lawsuit against the at-fault party is immediately after all your injuries have taken care of and accounted for. In some cases, this will be upon release from the hospital. In other cases, there may be lingering nerve damage.
You only get one chance to try this case against the at-fault party. You want to ensure that you have a clear idea what all of your damages will be.