In 2013, there were 1,919 dog bite claims in California alone. This was the highest number of dog bite claims of any state. It was nearly double the amount of dog bite claims in New York, the next state on the list, which had 965.

California Dog Bite Laws Dog bite claims are on the rise all over the country. This is a serious issue, considering that dog bites can cause lacerations, disfigurement, internal injuries and even death.

Every state has different dog bit laws. Some states have the one-bite rule, which means that an owner would not be liable for a dog bite unless the dog was known to be vicious and had bitten before.

California is a strict liability state. This means that the owner is liable for the damages caused by their dog biting another person, whether this is the dog’s first time or not.

California Dog Bite Law: Civil Code § 3342

According to California Law, Section 3342, the dog owner is liable for the damages it causes a victim who is bitten by the dog. The dog bite can occur in a public or private place, including the dog owner’s property.

The dog owner is liable for such damage regardless of the fact that the dog never displayed such viciousness in the past. This applies to victims who are on the dog owner’s property legally. This includes those conducting business on the property—such as postal workers—or those invited onto the property by the owner, such as guests.

There are some exceptions to this law, however. A person cannot bring a claim against any government agency that uses a dog for police or military work if the bite occurs while the dog was assisting an employee and simply doing its job.

Also, if any dog bites another person while defending itself from a provoking, annoying or harassing act, then the dog owner likely will not be held liable.

In addition, the law applies to situations where an actual dog bite has occurred. If a person is injured by a dog’s jumping or scratching, then they are not covered under this law. However, they do they have the legal right to file a negligence claim against the dog owner.

California also has laws that place extra responsibility on the dog owner if a previous attack has occurred. Under California Law, Section 3342.5, an owner of a dog who has previously bitten a person must take reasonable care to prevent future bites from occurring. Once a dog has bitten a person on two separate occasions, the district attorney will assess the situation and look at the circumstances to see if the dog owner took the appropriate steps to keep the dog away from others and prevent a dangerous situation from occurring.

Depending on the facts involved, the district attorney may take the appropriate steps to prevent such a situation in the future. This may include removing the dog from the home, or in extreme cases, euthanizing the dog.

Negligence Claims in Dog Bite Cases

If a dog caused injury to a person with no biting involved, then the victim can file a negligence claim. The victim has the burden of proving that the dog’s owner did not use reasonable care, and that this lack of care caused an injury to occur. For example, a dog could have jumped up on a child and scratched his or her face. A dog could have knocked over an elderly person, causing broken bones or head trauma. In these cases, the victim must show that the dog owner did not properly restrain the dog with a leash or fenced-in area and this lack of restraint caused the injuries.

When a Child is a Dog Bite Victim

While adults should have the discretion to know the difference from right and wrong when it comes to handling and petting dogs, do these same laws apply to young children, who may not know better? Court cases have ruled that children under the age of 5 are not capable of performing acts of negligence. Judges believe that children that young are incapable of acting in a reasonable manner around dogs. As such, a dog owner can use the defense that the child did not act with due care around the dog. Even child under the age of 5 who act in an obedient manner cannot be considered negligent.

What happens when a child is bit while at a daycare center? This is a common occurrence across the nation. In some areas, dogs are forbidden from daycare facilities. Even in areas where it is not against the law, it can be considered negligent at the very least. While some daycare facilities ask parents to sign agreements releasing the facility from liable in the event of a dog attack, the courts tend to side with the victim and consider these documents against public policy.

Civil and Criminal Liability for Dog Bites

In order to file a civil suit against a dog owner, the victim has must do so in a timely manner. The statute of limitations in California for personal injury claims is two years. This means you have two years from the date the dog bite occurred to file a claim against the liable party.

In addition to civil liability, dog owner may face criminal liability as well. If a person owns a dog considered to be dangerous or vicious, he or she could be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. If the dog causes injury, then the charge may be a misdemeanor, but will rise to a felony in the event of the person’s death.

There are actually numerous different charges that a person could face for having a dog that injures or kills other people. While more minor injuries are considered misdemeanors, more severe cases that result in death can be charged as manslaughter or even murder. This can lead to hefty fines and decades of prison time.

A dog is considered dangerous if it acted aggressively in at least two separate incidents over a 36-month period. The incidents must have involved biting another person or injuring or killing a domestic pet. The incidents must have occurred while the dog was away from the dog owner’s property.

A dog is considered vicious if it has been used in illegal dog fighting or has severely injured or killed a person using aggressive force.

Dog Bite Defenses

Dog owners have several defenses they can use to defend themselves against claims.

  • No proof of ownership. Just because a dog is on a person’s property does not mean the property owner owns the dog. Sometimes stray dogs roam on other people’s property. The person who has control of the dog is considered to be the owner. This can be identified by animal control records and veterinarians records as well as where the dog sleeps.
  • Victim was trespassing. If the victim was on the dog owner’s property unlawfully at the time of the attack, then the person was not a guest and therefore is not covered under the law.
  • Victim was harassing or provoking the dog. If the victim was hitting the dog, attacking it with an object or otherwise annoying it right before the attack occurred, then the dog owner is not liable.
  • Victim was not bit by the dog. Dog bite laws in California apply to dog bites only. The bite does not have to penetrate the skin, but it must be an actual bite nonetheless. If the dog jumped on the person, tripped over the person or scratched the person, but never bit the person, then that is not enough to be covered under the state’s dog bite law.

It is important to know that those who work directly with dogs—such as veterinarians, pet sitters, dog trainers and dog groomers—typically are unable to receive compensation for injuries caused by dog bites, since that risk is inherent in their occupations. However, there are four conditions in which they may be able to receive compensation:

  1. The victim was bitten before or after working with the dog, but not during the course of employment.
  2. The victim was employed by the dog owner.
  3. The owner knew that the dog had bitten before, but did not disclose that information to the person handling the dog or anyone else in the company.
  4. The dog owner signed a contract making him or her liable for any injuries caused by the dog.

Injured by a Dog Bite? Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer

Dog bite claims can be complex. If you were injured by a dog or are accused of having a dog that has bitten another person, don’t try to handle the case on your own. Instead, contact a knowledgeable dog bite lawyer near you who has experience handling such claims. He or she can assess your case and determine the value of your damages. Your lawyer can also determine if you should settle outside of court or go to trial.