Dog owners often believe they understand what their dog is capable of and often deny the possibility that it would ever bite a human … until it’s too late. Dogs may be man’s best friend, but they’re still animals capable of causing personal injury or even death.
The more you understand about California dog bite laws, the better off you, your dog, and the people around you will be.
California Dog Bite Laws
Animal law covers a wide range of topics, including everything from pet ownership to liability.
Today, we’re taking a closer look at California dog bite laws so you know how to handle the situation, either as a dog owner or someone who suffered a personal injury because of a dog bite. Dog bites can cause very serious injuries and emotional trauma and there are laws in place to protect victims and manage dogs that have become dangerous. Dog bite law in California regulates how dogs are handled after they bite and what rights and responsibilities the victims and owners
Before we get into the details, please be advised that you should immediately wash the area to prevent infection. Bites have been known to cause dangerous infections days after the dog bite occurred, so it’s critical that you take the precaution and consider the possibility that the injury may become worse.
Let’s get started.
Liability Of Dog Owners In California
According to California Civil Code § 3342, the owner of a dog any time the dog bites someone. In this case, liability means you’re responsible for the costs associated with the injuries caused by the dog bite, like medical expenses and lost wages. This law applies in public, but it also applies on the owner’s property as long as the victim was there for a lawful reason. For example, you’re liable if your dog bites a mailman or a friend you invited over for a party. This is a “strict liability” rule, which means that if the dog bites, the owner is responsible as long as the victim wasn’t a trespasser. It doesn’t matter if the owner did nothing wrong or if the dog has never bitten anyone before. However, there is an exception where the victim was provoking the dog. If you were provoking the dog (by hitting or kicking it, for example), the owner is not liable for your injuries.
Liability Of Dog Handlers In California
What happens if the dog bites someone when it’s with a dog walker, handler, friend, or pet sitter? While the law regarding owners is strict liability, the law for dog bites that occur while the dog is with a handler is not. If you get bitten and want to sue the dog walker or handler, you’ll have to show that the handler acted with “scienter” – that he or she knew that the dog was vicious and prone to bite. Buffington v. Nicholson (1947) 78 Cal.App.2d 37, 42 [177 P.2d 51]. If you’ve been bitten by a dog, it’s usually easiest to use the strict liability rule and sue the owner. However, the owner may not have any assets or homeowner’s insurance (which usually covers dog bites). In that case, you may want to expand the scope of the lawsuit to include the handler, dog walker, or any other party that was responsible for the dog.
Injuries Other Than Bites
The strict liability rule for dog owners only covers injuries related to dog bites, although the bite doesn’t have to break the skin. But that’s not the only type of injury a dog can cause – what if you’re injured because of the dog attacks and knocks you over? In that case, you can still sue the owner or handler of the dog. You’ll generally need to prove that the defendant was “negligent,” meaning they knew or should have known that the dog was dangerous and failed to warn or protect you from that danger. In addition, some municipalities have laws that extend strict liability to types of injuries other than bites, so check with a local lawyer about the laws in your town.
The strict liability rule does not cover trespassers – people who are on your property without your express or implied consent. If they get bitten, however, they may still be able to sue you for their injuries. As with injuries other than bites, they’ll have to show that you were negligent in your handling of the dog or in the maintenance of your property. In that case, the court will determine whether your behavior was reasonable. For example, training your dog to attack anyone who enters your yard probably isn’t reasonable and you may be held liable.
What Happens To The Dog?
When there’s an incident involving your dog, the local police will file a report with the court and they’ll have a hearing to determine your dog’s status. If your dog has attacked another person or animal twice within a 3-year period or bitten someone once and causes minor injuries, it becomes a “potentially dangerous” dog under California law. Cal. Civ. Code § 31602. If your dog has severely injured or killed someone once, attacked another person or animal more than twice within a 3-year period, or bitten someone and caused minor injuries twice, it becomes a “vicious” dog under California law. Cal. Civ. Code § 31603. You’ll receive a notification about the hearing and its outcome and you’ll have the opportunity to appeal. If your dog is classified as potentially dangerous, you’ll need to keep the dog indoors or in a securely fenced yard (so the dog can’t escape and no children can enter) at all times while the dog is on your property. If you leave, you’ll need to keep the dog leashed at all times. Cal. Civ. Code § 31642. If there are no more incidents for 3 years, your dog will be removed from the list of potentially dangerous dogs. Cal. Civ. Code § 31644. If your dog is classified as vicious, the court may order the local animal control department to destroy it. Alternatively, it may impose conditions on your ownership to avoid any public safety hazards.
Get Legal Help
If you’ve been bitten by a dog or if your dog has bitten someone else, you need legal help. Dog bite law in California is complicated and full of exceptions and fine print. Check out our California Dog Bite Attorney Referral Service to find an experienced lawyer near you!