Understanding Dog Bite Laws in California

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They may be man’s best friend, but dogs—especially dogs with negligent owners—aren’t always harmless. Too many Californians learn that lesson the hard way after being bitten, and while it may not sound like a severe injury, about one in five dog bites require medical treatment. In addition to musculoskeletal damage, scarring, and life-threatening infections, dog bites can cause lasting psychological trauma, especially for children. 

When discussing dog bite injuries, it’s important to remember that aggressive dogs aren’t typically born that way. In many cases, dogs become violent as a result of abuse or neglectAggressive dog in Costa Mesa and attacking is how they respond to a perceived threat. Regardless of a dog’s history, owners are responsible for preventing situations in which a nervous or aggressive dog could bite someone. 

If you suffer a serious dog bite injury, you may require emergency medical treatment, surgery, rehabilitation, and time away from work. All these expenses add up, and you could be left footing the bill if you’re not careful. Fortunately, an experienced Costa Mesa personal injury attorney can help you navigate your legal options for pursuing compensation. 

This article will explain everything you need to know about dog bite laws in California, including rules for dangerous dogs, determining liability, recoverable compensation, and more.

Ready to secure the compensation you need and deserve to recover? Contact our law firm to schedule a free consultation with a leading dog bite attorney today. 

Dog Bite Injuries and Liability in California

In California, a dog’s teeth don’t necessarily have to break someone’s skin to be considered a dog bite injury. For example, if a dog grabs someone with its teeth or closes its mouth around their pant leg, it could still be a dog bite injury if the victim falls or suffers harm. 

Strict Dog Bite Liability Laws

Unlike some states, California holds dog owners strictly liable for dog bites, meaning they typically owe injury victims compensation, even if their dogs showed no prior signs of aggression. According to California Civil Code 3342, dog owners can be held liable for dog bite injuries that occur in public or on private property where the injury victim had a right to be. 

A dog bite injury victim can sue under California’s strict liability rule whether or not they can prove the owner knew their dog might be dangerous. It also doesn’t matter whether or not the owner took precautions to prevent their dog from biting or hurting someone; in most cases, they are still eligible to pursue a claim against the owner. However, there are exceptions.

Limits to Strict Liability in California 

A dog owner is strictly liable only if the injured person was bitten and was bitten in a public place or on private property they had a legal right to be on. For example, strict liability would apply in cases where a mail person was bitten by a dog while delivering mail. 

In contrast, a person suspected of a crime cannot sue under the strict liability statute if they are bitten by a police or military dog while doing law enforcement work. However, an innocent bystander—someone who is not a suspect in a crime—may be able to sue a police or military dog. Additionally, dog owners typically can’t be held liable when their dogs bite veterinarians or vet assistants during treatment. 

Liability for Non-Bite Injuries

California’s strict liability statute doesn’t apply to situations where a dog causes a non-bite injury. For example, if a dog chases and topples an e-scooter but doesn’t bite the rider, strict liability doesn’t apply—even if the rider is injured. That doesn’t mean the injury victim can’t pursue legal recourse; they may still be able to secure compensation from the dog’s owner if they can prove their injuries resulted from the dog owner’s negligence. 

Dog Bites Involving Trespassers

Typically, trespassers are not protected under California’s dog bite laws. The strict liability statute applies only to individuals who are bitten in a public place or bitten while “lawfully” on private property. As a result, dog owners are generally not held liable when their dog bites and injures a trespasser, but exceptions exist. 

For example, if a trespasser can somehow prove the dog owner was negligent, they might be able to hold the owner liable for their injuries. However, this can be very difficult to do. Additionally, California’s dangerous-dog laws state that a dog cannot be declared dangerous on the sole basis of biting a trespasser

California’s Dangerous Dog Laws

To protect the public from predictably violent dogs while respecting dog owners’ rights, California has established special designations for dogs with a history of aggression. Here’s how the state characterizes potentially aggressive or vicious dogs: 

  • A dog is considered potentially dangerous when it has, unprovoked, behaved aggressively on two separate occasions, bitten someone, caused injuries that are less than severe or killed a domestic animal twice within 36 months while off the owner’s property. 
  • A dog is considered vicious when it has, unprovoked, inflicted a severe injury on or killed a person, been declared potentially dangerous and then exhibits the same dangerous behavior, or is kept in violation of specific sanctions. 

If a dog is deemed potentially dangerous or vicious, the dog owner has a legal obligation to ensure the dog is properly licensed, vaccinated, and registered. Owners must also adhere to specific containment and control measures to prevent the dog’s escape and future dangerous behaviors. Failure to adhere to these laws leaves a dog owner particularly vulnerable to lawsuits if their dog bites and injures someone. 

Compensation for Dog Bite Accident Cases

If you suffered a dog bite injury due to a negligent owner, you may be eligible to pursue compensation through a dog bite lawsuit. Your settlement may include economic damages, which are easily calculable financial losses, and non-economic damages, which are intangible losses that evade a dollar amount. 

Your dog bite attorney will help you calculate the full range of damages when preparing your settlement demand letter. You may be able to secure compensation for the following damages: 

  • Medical expenses, including the costs of reconstructive surgery, emergency medical treatment, physical therapy, medications, x-rays and diagnostic procedures, counseling, and any other accident-related medical cost
  • Lost wages, including the wages you missed while in recovery and other work-related benefits and earnings
  • Pain and suffering, including emotional distress, discomfort, anguish, inconvenience, and trauma caused by the event
  • Reduced quality of life, such as the inability to enjoy hobbies, social interactions, activities, and companionship in the same way you did before the attack
  • Permanent disfigurement and scarring, including losses associated with poor mental health, isolation, lack of companionship, etc. 

This is not an exhaustive list, and some dog bite victims incur a variety of other losses. Although compensation won’t undo the trauma you’ve experienced, a settlement can provide the resources you need to pursue recovery. 

Case Barnett Law: Top Personal Injury Attorneys in California

If you suffered a severe dog bite injury, you may be eligible to pursue compensation through a dog bite injury lawsuit. The dog bite attorney team at Case Barnett Law can review the details of your case in a free consultation and lay out your legal options. 

Ready to get started? Contact our law office to schedule a free case evaluation with a compassionate personal injury attorney today. 

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