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California Dog Bite Law

Posted by Siamak Vaziri | Jan 27, 2023 | 0 Comments

California not only has the highest number of fatal dog attacks in the country, but also the most dog bites in the United States. So, if you live in California, your odds of being involved in a dog-related incident - as a victim or as a dog owner - are higher than in any other state. Dog bite prevention tips might help. Whether a dog has bitten you or whether you are a dog owner, it is important that we all understand what California's dog bite law states and whom it protects.

Strict Liability Law For California Dog Bite Injuries

Some states have a one-bite rule where a dog owner would not be held liable for a dog bite unless the dog was known to have attacked or bitten someone before. However, California laws are different. California is a "strict liability state" when it comes to dog bite claims. What this means is, the dog owner is financially responsible for the injuries, damages and losses caused as a result of their dog biting another person.

angry dog with bared teeth

Key Points - Table of Contents

The dog owner will be held liable regardless of whether the dog has been aggressive before or whether the incident occurred on public or private property. If you or a loved one has been injured in a dog attack in California, it is important you contact an experienced Los Angeles dog attack lawyer to discuss your options and better understand your rights under the state's strict liability statute.

Civil Code § 3342

California's dog bite law under Civil Code Section 3342 states that dog owners can be held liable for dog bite injuries that occur on private or public property as long as the victim is legally there. California Civil Code Section 3342 (a) states: “The owner of any dog is liable for the damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner's knowledge of such viciousness.”

How is Civil Code 3342 Different from the "One Bite Rule?"

The one bite rule means that a dog owner could be held liable for a dog attack only if they knew that the dog in question had the propensity to bite. This may include awareness of aggressive tendencies because of the dog breed or its personality, or simply because it has attacked other animals or people in the past. The one bite rule may increase owner liability if he or she knew that the dog had the propensity to bite strangers without being provoked. Therefore, the law states that the owner should have taken necessary precautions to prevent an attack. A strict liability statute holds the owner responsible for the attack in most situations. Under California's dog bite law, the dog owner will be held accountable for the bite even if he or she tried to prevent it or took steps to restrain the animal.

What Are Exceptions to a Dog Owner's Strict Liability?

"Strict liability" does not mean that there are no exceptions to the rule. Dog owners who can show that one or more exceptions apply to their case can avoid strict liability under California's dog bite law. Here are some of those notable exceptions:

  • The victim was on a private property unlawfully or trespassing
  • The dog was a law enforcement animal
  • The victim had assumed the risk of getting bitten
  • The victim was partially at fault, for example, by provoking or abusing the dog

What Counts as a "Bite" Under California Law?

If a dog grabs the victim with its teeth, it is considered a “bite,” even if the bite does not break the skin. For example, if a dog pushes a victim to the ground but does not cause a bite wound, the victim can still claim damages under the strict liability statute for injuries suffered in the fall.

Negligence Claims in Dog Bite Cases

Dog bite victims can seek compensation for personal injury in dog bite cases by claiming negligence or carelessness on the part of a dog owner. For example, a dog owner can be held liable for injuries caused by the dog if the owner is negligent in the handling of the dog at the time of the attack. If the plaintiff can show that the dog owner did not have the ability to properly control their dog at the time of the attack and that their injuries were a result of such negligence, they may be able to seek compensation for their losses. You don't have to show that the dog had prior vicious or aggressive tendencies in a negligence claim. All you need to show is that the owner did not have control of his or her dog. Negligence “per se” means that the dog owner failed to follow existing laws such as a “leash law,” which resulted in the injury. A dog owner or keeper can also be held liable for such negligence.

Are There Defenses to the One Bite Rule?

The one bite rule may play an important part in California dog bite cases, especially in those that are not covered under the state's strict liability statute. Victims, who have been bitten by a dog, but whose cases fall outside the scope of the strict liability statute, may be able to use a past bite to hold the dog owner liable for their injuries, damages and losses. The past bite could serve as evidence that the dog owner knew that his or her dog was dangerous. This essentially makes the owner liable for future bites.

Here are some specific situations where a one bite rule may help an injured person recover compensation:

  • The dog bite victim trespassed on private property where he or she was bitten
  • The victim works in a field where they are at risk of being bitten by a dog such as an animal shelter worker or veterinarian
  • The defendant is not the owner of the dog

Dog owners can raise several defenses to the one bite rule including:

  • The victim assumed the risk of harm. For example if the victim works in an animal shelter or works in a veterinarian's office, there is an assumption of risk or the understanding that such a person, because of the field in which they are working, would be vulnerable to a dog attack.
  • The victim contributed to the dog bite and their own injuries by trespassing on private property or by provoking the dog to attack.<

Do Other States Use the One Bite Rule for Dog Bites?

Only some states use the one bite rule when it comes to dog bite cases. In fact, only 16 states now follow the one bite rule and all others have strict liability statutes, like California. Some states with strict liability statutes still use a past bite as proof of liability in cases where the strict liability statute does not apply.

The 16 states that still use the one bite rule are:

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • Idaho
  • Kansas
  • Maryland
  • Mississippi
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Oregon
  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Wyoming.

However, there are exceptions to the strict liability statute in California:

  • When the owner is not being sued
  • The dog was part of a police K-9 unit involved in law enforcement
  • The victim provoked or abused the dog that bit them
  • The victim trespassed on private property when they got bitten
  • The victim was partially responsible for his or her injuries

While dog bite victims typically cannot hold the dog owner liable by applying the strict liability statute when one of these exceptions applies, they can still pursue monetary compensation for their injuries, damages and losses, and make the argument that the owner was negligent or careless.

Child Dog Bite Victims

Nearly half of all dog bite victims tend to be children. Under California law, dog owners are liable for injuries caused by their dogs when they attack people who are lawfully on public or private property and this rule extends to children. As a result, if your child was bitten by a dog while playing outside, at a playground or while visiting friends or neighbors, he or she may be entitled to compensation for his or her injuries, damages and losses.

Civil and Criminal Liability

In addition to civil liability, a dog owner or keeper may also face criminal charges when the animal injured someone roaming at large, but only if the owner knew that the dog was prone to vicious or aggressive behavior and if he or she did not keep it under control. A dog attack could even be charged as a “felony” if the victim died from the injuries and a “wobbler” (either a misdemeanor or a felony) if the victim only suffered injuries. Even if the authorities file criminal charges in a dog bite case, the victim may still sue the owner for monetary damages as long as the lawsuit is filed before the statute of limitations expires.

Dog Bite Liability Defenses

Dog owners could have several legal defenses in civil lawsuits. They may argue that victims were:

  • Trespassing or on their property unlawfully at the time of the dog attack
  • Provoked the animal to attack, which means they were partially at fault
  • Voluntarily took a risk of injury (assumption of risk)

Are Dangerous Dogs Euthanized in California?

California law allows a dangerous dog to be put down if it poses a significant threat to public safety. The state can also impose additional restrictions on dog that considered potentially dangerous or vicious by requiring that owners keep them inside or on a leash at all times.

Dogs could be considered dangerous if they were involved in two or more incidents within three years during which people had to defend themselves against the dog's unprovoked aggression; or if the dog bit someone unprovoked and caused a relatively minor injury. Dogs could also be considered vicious and potentially euthanized if it killed or injured someone unprovoked or a court determined the dog dangerous and the owner failed to follow the required restrictions leading to an attack.

Statute of Limitations for Dog Bite

Statute of limitations refers to the time limit for plaintiffs to file a dog bite lawsuit. While California does not have a specific civil statute of limitations that pertains to dog bite lawsuits, these cases fall under the statute of limitations for personal injury. Under California law, a dog bite civil lawsuit must be filed within two years of the injury. If you file the claim too late, courts may not hear your case. The deadline to sue could be potentially tolled or paused if the dog bite victim is under 18; the dog owner or at-fault party is out of state for a period of time; the victim is mentally incompetent or in prison.

Getting Help After A Dog Bite

If you or a loved one has been injured in a dog attack, or if you have lost a loved one in a dog attack, the experienced California dog bite lawyers at the Vaziri Law Group, APC can help you evaluate your legal rights and options. Our knowledgeable team can help injured clients understand how the law applies to their case. Call our law offices to obtain more information about pursuing your legal rights.

About the Author

Siamak Vaziri

Attorney Siamak Vaziri’s mission is to help make his clients whole by obtaining maximum physical, emotional, and financial recovery. Mr. Vaziri’s clients' needs come first, evidenced by his 98% success rate, more than $1 Billion in client settlements and verdicts, as well as 100+ 5-star reviews. Mr. Vaziri invests every resource to nurture his client and partner relationships and does so with integrity and a relentless work ethic.


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