California Dog Bite Laws

Dog bite laws differ from state to state.  California has enacted dog bite statutes under which a dog owner can be found strictly liable for injuries caused by his dog.  California passed a statute that eliminated the “one-free bite” rule by holding a dog owner liable even if the dog has never bitten anyone or shown a tendency to bite.  Under this statute, liability is based upon ownership and the dog’s past behavior is irrelevant.  In California, a victim of a dog bite only needs to show that: the dog was owned by the defendant; the bite took place on public property or while the victim was lawfully on private property; the victim was actually bitten by the dog; and the victim was injured by the dog.

Defense under the California Statute

The dog bite statute is limited based on lack of ownership of the dog.  If the defendant is not an owner California law states “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.” (Buffington v. Nicholson (1947).

Trespass is a defense under the California dog bite statute.  The dog owner may not be liable if the victim trespassed upon property where the attack occurred.  However, the victim may be able to sue for negligence.  The dog bite statute protects a victim “while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog.” (Fullerton v. Conan (1948).  This prevents trespassers from obtaining recovery.

Civil Code section 3342 imposes strict liability in all instances where the victim is not a trespasser and the dog was not on duty for the military or the police.  California courts have denied recovery to victims who either provoked the dog, negligently caused the attack, or assumed the risk of dog attack.

The statutes strict liability provisions apply to injuries caused by an actual bite.  If the victim was injured by being jumped on or knocked down, for example, any recovery would be under a negligence theory.  These are for cases when an actual “bite” did not occur.

Owner of the dog

California’s statute only imposes liability on the dog’s owner.  However, under the statute persons other than a dog’s documented owner may also be deemed an “owner.”  A keeper or handler may be liable for a victim’s injuries, but not under the strict liability statute.  A keeper or handler must have some prior knowledge of the dog’s vicious acts, such as a prior bite, before he or she can be held liable.  Liability can also be determined if there was any negligence by the handler or keeper.  Negligence is established by showing that the owner or handler was not reasonably careful in controlling the dog under the circumstances and the victim was injured as a result.

If you or a loved one are the victim of a dog bite the California dog bite attorneys at the Liljegren Law Group can help you.  Our attorneys have helped countless victims of dog bites with their lawsuits and litigation.  Hiring an experienced attorney from the Liljegren Law Group is important to help you sort out the complexities of a dog bite case.  Our attorneys are experts on the statutes surrounding dog bite incidents, and can help to protect your rights and seek the compensation you may be entitled to.  We have offices conveniently located throughout Southern California.  Please call our office today at 866-613-9906 for a free legal consultation.

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