California has “strict liability” laws regarding dog bites. These are covered under California Civil Code section 3342. In most instances, pet owners are liable for injuries caused by dogs, even if their animal had never been vicious, the owner didn’t know they were, or their animal instincts took over and there was a way to control them.
Strict liability applies only if the injured person (adult or child) was bitten and was in a public space or lawfully present on private property. However, people can’t sue under the statute for bites by law enforcement or military dogs doing their work or that were defending themselves. Likewise, California’s self-defense laws free owners of liability if an attack happened while the dog was protecting its owner or someone else.
Dog owners may still face civil liability if the bite didn’t break the skin, but the dog instead grabbed a person with its teeth. The state’s laws also account for additional injuries, such as if someone falls to the ground or from a ladder after a dog bites their clothing.
When Can’t You Sue?
In general, trespassers on private property aren’t eligible to recover damages. However, if the dog was trained to attack, the court may hold the owner liable for the resulting injuries. A victim usually can’t sue if they provoked the animal or were injured by escaping but the dog didn’t bite them. However, the dog owner can still be found negligent if they didn’t exercise reasonable care to control the animal.
Can a Dog Walker Be Liable?
A dog walker, dog handler, friend, or family member is generally not liable for injuries caused by dog bites. That is unless they proactively caused the animal to bite someone. Otherwise, the owner of the dog is liable for the victim’s injuries.
How Are Dog Bites Classified?
According to California personal injury law, a dog is considered potentially dangerous if it attacks another human or animal twice in a three-year period. It must have forced someone to defend themselves from aggressive behavior, bitten someone without being provoked, and caused minor injuries. The owner is then required by law to keep it behind a fence or indoors.
But if a dog has severely injured or killed a human without being provoked, its classification is upgraded to vicious. The court may also declare it so in other circumstances. The owner must attend a hearing, where a judge will determine if it should be moved to animal control and euthanized as an extreme safety measure.
Is there a Statute of Limitations?
You can sue for damages such as medical bills, physical/vocational therapy, psychological counseling, lost wages and earning capacity, and pain and suffering within two years. If you miss the deadline, your case won’t likely be heard. This applies even if there is criminal liability on the owner, in which case you can still sue for damages within the two-year period.
In California, dogs are often welcome in the home and provide much love and comfort. However, the state’s strict laws on dog bite liability allow victims to sue for damages if they did not provoke the animal. Our highly regarded law firm has recovered millions of dollars for clients. If you’ve suffered a dog bite personal injury, call 888-952-2952 for a free consultation, and read our COVID-19 updates to learn how to protect yourself and ways we’re working to continue to fight for our clients.