Dog Bite Liability in California: 8 Things to Know

Dogs have long been considered man’s best friend. According to historical accounts, the society’s love affair with these furry creatures dates back to ancient Rome and Greece. Apart from their unparalleled loyalty, their warmth is scientifically known to bring joy to their owners. 

Still, no matter how lovable they are, dogs can sometimes go rogue and attack other people. That’s why it’s important to know the dog bite liability regulations in California to protect your rights in case you’re hurt in a dog bite incident.

8 Things to Know about Dog Bite Liability in California 

Being bitten by a dog is no joke—apart from the injuries and possible diseases you may contract, the medical expenses are a pain to deal with. Here are some things you should know about dog bite liability to help you pay for your expenses.

1. The dog owner is liable for the injuries suffered by a person bitten by the dog

California is a strict liability state. Regardless of whether the dog owner is negligent, they are liable for compensating you for your injuries caused by their dog. 

In addition, even if they are unaware of their dog’s biting tendencies or their dog has never shown this behavior in the past, they are still accountable. This makes it more favorable for you to file a claim as you won’t have to prove the dog owner’s negligence.

2. The dog’s classification is vital in identifying the owner’s liability

Under the doctrine of scienter, a dog owner can be held liable if their pet is known to be “potentially dangerous” or “vicious.” However, for this doctrine to be applicable, the owner must be aware of the dog’s aggressive behavior.

Dogs that are “potentially dangerous” have caused minor injuries to a person or another animal from a bite. The attack must have happened on two separate occasions within a three-year period. Dogs that have engaged in violent behavior twice within the three-year period also fall under this classification.

As a rule, the dog must have behaved so aggressively—even if unprovoked—that the victim was prompted to act defensively to protect themselves.

Meanwhile, dogs are categorized as “vicious” if they have severely injured or killed a person even without any provocation from the victim. Those identified as potentially dangerous and who continue to manifest aggressive behavior are also covered in this category. 

3. There is a time limit for filing dog bite claims

In California, you only have two years to file a dog bite claim from when you sustained the injury. If the injury was not discovered immediately, you have one year from the date you found the injury. If you fail to pursue your claim within the prescribed period, you may not be able to get compensation.

4. No lawsuit can be filed against a dog owner in certain circumstances

Although California is a strict liability state, there are certain instances wherein dog bite liability cannot be attributed to the owner. These are the following:

  • Trespassing: The victim was trespassing or did not have the legal right to be on the dog owner’s premises.
  • Assumption of risk: Veterinarians, kennel staff, trainers, groomers, and other related occupations that assume control or possession of dogs may not hold the owner liable as they are presumed to know the risk of being bitten due to the nature of their job. 
  • Provocation: The owner may not be liable for the attack if the victim provoked the dog before being bitten. 
  • Law enforcement animals: The strict liability rule may not apply to military or police dogs that bite someone while carrying out government-related duties. 

5. The dog owner is liable regardless of where the dog bite incident happened

Dog bite liability in California applies regardless of where the attack occurred. Under the law, the owner is responsible for the injuries suffered by the person bitten by the dog while in a public or private place. 

For dog bite incidents that happened on private property, the victim must have been there in the performance of a lawful duty or upon the invitation of the owner. If the victim did not have the right to be at the place, the dog owner might not be held liable.

6. The victim must establish certain elements to hold the owner liable

If you’re planning to file a personal injury case, there are some things you need to consider to get a favorable decision from the jury. Based on California’s jury instructions, you must prove the following to hold the owner liable:

  • The dog bit you when you were in a public place or lawfully on private property 
  • You suffered harm because of the dog bite
  • The defendant’s dog was a substantial factor in causing that harm
  • The defendant owns the dog that bit you

If you can prove these elements, you have a higher chance of recovering compensation. It can also entitle you to insurance coverage. A personal injury attorney can obtain a copy of the defendant’s policy and help you evaluate coverage. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to talk to your lawyer right away after a bite. 

7. A dog owner who fails to provide their contact information to a victim may face infraction charges

California’s Penal Code 398 requires the dog owner to provide the victim with the necessary information within 48 hours after the incident. This includes the owner’s name, address, telephone number, and the dog’s license tag number. The owner should also give information about the dog’s vaccination history. Failure to do so will subject the owner to a fine of not more than $100 due to the infraction.

8. A dog owner who fails to secure their dog known to be vicious may be charged with a felony

You can file criminal charges against a dog owner if their pet severely injures you because they didn’t take any precautions to keep it under control, especially if it is classified as potentially dangerous or vicious. An owner can be charged with a felony if the dog has killed a victim. If the attack only led to injuries, a wobbler could be filed.

Understanding Dog Bite Liability in California

While dogs are loveable creatures that many want in their homes, there is still a possibility that they can hurt someone. As such, it’s essential to understand how dog bite liability works in California and take such incidents seriously.

If you’ve been involved in a dog bite and are looking for a personal injury attorney in Orange County to work your case, reach out to us at RMD Law. Our team is composed of experienced lawyers ready for the tireless representation you deserve. 

Contact us today for a free case evaluation!

Aria Miran
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