Dogs have long been considered man's best friend. These loyal and devoted animals provide comfort and companionship for countless numbers of people. In the United States, the ASPCA estimates that people own about 70-80 million dogs. About 37-47% of households have a dog, most of whom were obtained through acquaintances or family members.
Unfortunately, each year a number of people are seriously injured or killed because they are attacked by a dog. The CDC estimates that about 4.5 million dog bites happen every year. These attacks occur for any number of reasons, but surprisingly, the CDC reported that it is not random, vicious dogs that bite people. Rather, “over half of dog-bite injuries occur at home with dogs that are familiar [to the person bit.]” In addition, the more dogs a household has, the more likely a person is to be bitten. However, a number of dog bites happen when a dog injures a non-family member. If you or your loved one has been bitten by a dog belonging to another individual, you may wonder what recourse you have. This page will discuss who can be held responsible for dog bites in California, what damages are available, and what the time limit you have to file a case is.
Dog Bite Laws
The laws concerning dog bites vary from state to state. There are two general categories that these laws fall into: the ‘one-bite' rule and strict liability.
One Bite Rule
Although not the law in California, the one-bite rule is good law in several states. Under the ‘one-bite' rule, an owner is not liable if he or she has no knowledge that the dog was dangerous. The law looks at if the owner knew or should have known of the potential risk to others that the dog posed. Thus, if an owner had never had an issue with his or her dog and that dog then bites someone, that owner may not be liable for the injury. However, if the dog had previously bitten someone and then bit another person, the owner may be on the hook for any damages in that case.
If a state follows strict liability, then liability is not based on fault. That is, an owner can be liable regardless of whether or not he had any previous knowledge of his dog's propensity for violence. Under strict liability, an owner can be liable simply because he or she owns the dog.
California Dog Bite Law
California has adopted a strict liability dog bite statute. The law states:
“The owner of any dog is liable for the damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner's knowledge of such viciousness. A person is lawfully upon the private property of such owner within the meaning of this section when he is on such property in the performance of any duty imposed upon him by the laws of this state or by the laws or postal regulations of the United States, or when he is on such property upon the invitation, express or implied, of the owner.” Cal. Civ. Code § 3342(a).
Thus, in California, if a dog bites someone, that dog's owner is responsible for the damages that his or her dog causes. The law specifically states that liability can attach even if the owner had no idea that the dog was dangerous.
As with most laws, there are exceptions to the rule. For example, police departments have K-9 units that pair an officer with a dog, often a German Shepherd. If a police dog bites a suspect during the course of an arrest or in defense of a police officer, then the department will generally not be liable for that dog bite. Cal. Civ. Code § 3342(b).
In addition, there are certain circumstances under which an owner may escape liability. One instance is if the person bitten provokes the dog. If the bite was a result of the dog trying to defend itself, then an owner may not be liable for the injury. Another instance, where liability may not be found, is if a person is trespassing. If the individual has no lawful reason for being on the property, then if that individual is bitten by a dog who is on the property, that dog's owner can escape liability for the bite.
Contact An Attorney
If you or a loved one has been bitten by a dog, please do not hesitate to contact the law firm of Woods Williford. Our attorneys have extensive experience representing clients in personal injury cases, such as dog bite cases. We truly care about our clients and strive to help them recover just compensation for the injuries they have suffered. Contact us today at (888) 340-2440, or click here to fill out our online form.