California Strict Liability Law For Dog Bites

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Dogs are typically known to be the fun and friendly family pet. But even a normally friendly dog can bite a stranger unexpectedly. With sharp teeth and a strong jaw, these bites can leave the victim seriously injured and even scarred for life.

Luckily, not all dog bites result in serious injuries. But when the bites are more severe, they can result in puncture wounds, deep lacerations requiring surgery, disfigurement, severe scarring, infections, broken bones and even death. When a bite victim suffers from these injuries, they can file a claim against the dog owner to secure compensation that can help with their recovery. California is a strict liability state, meaning that victims do not have to prove that the dog owner was negligent or knew of a dog’s violent history.


California Civil Code Section 3342

(a) 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. A person is lawfully upon the private property of such owner within the meaning of this section when he is on such property in the performance of any duty imposed upon him by the laws of this state or by the laws or postal regulations of the United States, or when he is on such property upon the invitation, express or implied, of the owner.

(b) Nothing in this section shall authorize the bringing of an action pursuant to subdivision (a) against any governmental agency using a dog in military or police work if the bite or bites occurred while the dog was defending itself from an annoying, harassing, or provoking act, or assisting an employee of the agency in any of the following:

(1) In the apprehension or holding of a suspect where the employee has a reasonable suspicion of the suspect’s involvement in criminal activity.

(2) In the investigation of a crime or possible crime.

(3) In the execution of a warrant.

(4) In the defense of a peace officer or another person.

(c) Subdivision (b) shall not apply in any case where the victim of the bite or bites was not a party to, nor a participant in, nor suspected to be a party to or a participant in, the act or acts that prompted the use of the dog in the military or police work.

(d) Subdivision (b) shall apply only where a governmental agency using a dog in military or police work has adopted a written policy on the necessary and appropriate use of a dog for the police or military work enumerated in subdivision (b).


Elements of Negligence for Dog Bite Liability

Every injury claim, including dog bite claims, involve proving four elements of negligence to convince an insurance adjuster or court jury that the dog owner should pay for your losses. The four critical elements are:

  • Duty of Care

The dog owner had a duty of care to prevent the dog from causing harm to others.


  • Breach of Duty

The dog owner breached their duty by doing something wrong or failing to take reasonable action to prevent their dog from attacking you.


  • Cause

The dog owner’s negligence is the proximate cause of your injuries. For example, you wouldn’t have been savagely bitten if the owner had leashed or fenced the dog.


  • Damages

You have verifiable injuries, supported by medical bills and records.


California Strict Liability Law For Dog Bites

California is one of the states with “strict liability” dog-bite laws that make pet owners responsible for most dog-bite injuries. When a dog bite victim sues, California law does not take into consideration whether or not the dog has ever bitten someone before. That means the owner cannot argue that they did not know their dogs could be dangerous, or that they took care to prevent the animals from hurting someone.

The law has some limits, however. The owner is strictly liable only if the injured person:

  • was bitten, and
  • was either in a public place or “lawfully in a private place” (including the dog owner’s property) when the bite happened.

For the purpose of the statute, anyone who’s carrying out a legal duty (such as delivering mail or reading a meter) is lawfully on private property.

California’s Laws on Dangerous Dogs

California has a separate legal procedure for controlling dangerous dogs. Animal control or law enforcement officers must file a petition for a hearing when they suspect a dog is a threat and must be based on a sworn complaint from a member of the public.

After the hearing, if the court decides that the animal is potentially dangerous, animal control may destroy the vicious dog if the animal poses a significant threat to the public. If a vicious dog is not destroyed, the court must impose conditions on controlling the animal to protect the public, such as keeping the dog indoors, in a fenced yard that will keep the animal in and children out, or on a secure leash controlled by a responsible adult. The court may also prohibit the owner from having any dog for up to three years.


A Dog is Considered Potentially Dangerous If It Has:

  • Forced people to defend themselves from unprovoked, aggressive behavior in at least two separate incidents during the past three years
  • Bitten someone without being provoked, resulting in an injury that is not severe
  • Killed or injured a domestic animal without provocation twice in the last three years


What to Do After a Dog Attack

Your safety is the first consideration after a dog bite incident. Do whatever you have to do to get away from the dog and call for help.

Filing a dog bite liability claim against the owner’s insurance policy is the same as for injuries suffered in car accidents or slip and falls. Begin by taking action and gathering evidence to support your claim.

At the Scene of the Attack

  • Call 911

Tell the dispatcher that you have been attacked by a dog. Request immediate medical assistance. Give the dispatcher any information you have on the whereabouts of the dog. Be sure to get a police report to use as evidence of the attack will help when negotiating your insurance claim.

  • Seek Medical Attention

Seek immediate medical attention from a primary care doctor, local emergency department, or urgent care center. For public safety, most states require medical providers to report dog bites.

  • Alert Animal Control

The 911 dispatcher will likely alert animal control. In the event that they do not, be sure to report the attack to your local animal control department. The investigator will contact the dog’s owner for proof of current rabies vaccinations and other health issues.

Animal control officers have the authority to:

    • Order the dog tested for rabies and other viruses
    • Issue the dog owner citations with substantial fines
    • Order the owner to confine, leash, or muzzle the dog
    • Remove the dog for evaluation


  • Get the Owner’s Information

Ask the dog owner directly for their information. You will need the dog owner’s name, address, contact information and the name of their insurance company.

The same information may be in the police report or animal control incident report, but you likely won’t have access to those reports for a few days.

  • Take Photographs

Take photographs and videos of the bite marks, the dog and the area immediately around the dog. Pictures of a vicious dog baring its teeth and growling are powerful evidence. A video can vividly display its aggressive tendencies.

However, never place yourself in jeopardy while trying to take pictures of the dog.

  • Get Witness Statements

Talk to people who witnessed the attack, and ask them to write down a detailed description of what they saw.


Were You Bitten by a Dog? Call Our California Dog Bite Lawyers

Remember, if you are bitten by a dog, the dog’s owner may have a duty to cover the costs of your injury as well as other costs, including pain and suffering or time you have to take off from work to deal with your injury. If you were bitten, then the first thing you need to do when you get home is to wash the wound carefully with warm water and soap to gently cleanse it and examine it.

While most bites can be treated at home, a visit to the doctor is recommended as the doctor will be able to assess the injury better. In most cases, he might suggest you take antibiotics to prevent infection and receive a tetanus shot, or a series of preventative shots called rabies post-exposure prophylaxis. Also, be sure to report the incident to your local police department, animal control as well to the owners, if you can find them, immediately after the attack.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of a dog bite or dog attack, call us at 1-877-241-9554 to learn more about your legal options. A free consultation is just a phone call away.


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