What is California’s Dog Bite Statute?
Dog bites in California are covered under section 3342 of the Civil Code. The law states that victims of dog bites may be able to hold the owner of the dog liable for damages. To hold a dog owner liable:
- the damages must be caused by a dog bite, and
- the person who was bitten must be in a public place or in a private place lawfully.
For example, if a child is playing outside and a neighbor’s dog bites the child, the dog owner could be held responsible for failing to take reasonable steps to secure their dog.
Many state’s laws vary on liability in dog bite cases. However, California is a “strict liability” state which means that a dog owner cannot avoid liability for their dog biting someone else by claiming they did not know the dog would act aggressively. The owner of the dog will be responsible, even if the dog has never bitten anyone before.
If you have been bitten by a dog, you may have grounds to seek compensation from the dog owner. Be aware that California has a statute of limitations on dog bite cases. This means that victims will only have two years to make a claim for their dog bite injuries. If you have been bitten by a dog and now face high medical bills and pain and suffering, you should speak to the personal injury attorneys of the Demas Law Group, P.C., about your legal options. A personal injury attorney will review your case and offer you sound legal advice on how to pursue your case for the best chance at a positive outcome.
Are There Defenses to California Dog Bite Liability?
While a dog owner is typically responsible for damages their pet inflicts, there are instances where a dog owner is not liable for their dog biting someone else. In California, a dog owner can use several defenses including that of “trespassing.” If an individual is on private property illegally and they are bit by the owner’s dog, they do not have grounds for a personal injury case. California’s dog bite statute requires the victim to be either in a public place or lawfully in a private place. If they are on the property illegally, they cannot collect damages.
Another common defense against dog bite liability is that the victim provoked the dog to bite them. The dog’s owner may not be liable for damages if the victim:
- provoked the dog through violence or threat of violence
- knowingly took the risk of being injured by the dog
- was acting in an unreasonably careless way that contributed to the bite
Victims who act recklessly and/or provoke a dog to bite cannot seek compensation from the dog owner.
If someone is caring for a friend’s dog and the dog bites another person, the “keeper” may not be liable. California law states that “A keeper, in contrast to an owner, is not an insurer of the good behavior of a dog, but must have scienter or knowledge of the vicious propensities of the animal before liability for injuries inflicted by such animal shall attach to him.” This means that unless the keeper knew of the dog’s tendency towards violence, they cannot be held responsible because they are not the owner.