California Dog Bite Law Overview
California Dog Bites
There are over 74.8 million dogs in the United States and nearly 5 million people are bitten each year. Almost 800,000 of these bites (1 in 6) are serious enough to require medical attention. Dog bite injuries have increased over the last several years and statistics show that every American citizen has a one-in-fifty chance each year of being bitten. A dog attack can be a traumatic and horrifying experience that can cause severe and long lasting physical and psychological injuries, especially to children. If you or a loved one has been bitten by a dog and suffered injuries, you should contact an experienced dog bite attorney without delay.
Who Is Responsible For Injuries Caused By A Dog Bite?
Laws may differ from state-to-state, but all states find a person liable for a dog bite if they knowingly kept a dog that had previously bitten someone or that had exhibited a tendency to bite someone. This is called the “one-free bite” rule because dog owners are not liable if their dog had never bitten anyone before and they did not know of any vicious tendencies. A person may be liable, however, if he or she was negligent in controlling the dog and an injury occurred.
California’s Strict Liability Statute
California passed a statute that eliminated the “one-free bite” rule by holding a dog owner liable even if the dog has never bitten anyone or shown a tendency to bite. Under this statute, liability is based upon ownership and the dog’s past behavior is irrelevant. In California, a victim of a dog bite only needs to show that:
- the dog was owned by the defendant;
- the bite took place on public property or while the victim was lawfully on private property;
- the victim was actually bitten by the dog; and
- the victim was injured by the dog.
Defenses Under The Statute
A dog owner is not always liable under the statute if he or she can prove one of these defenses to a claim for injuries in a dog bite case:
- Trespass: The dog owner may not be liable if the victim trespassed upon property where the attack occurred (however the victim might be able to sue for negligence).
- The injury was not a bite: The statute’s strict liability provisions only apply to injuries caused by an actual bite. If the victim was injured by being jumped on or knocked down, for example, any recovery would be under a negligence theory.
- Assumption of the risk: If the victim provoked the dog to attack and therefore assumed a risk of injury, the owner might not be liable.
Other Possible Responsible Parties
The California statute applies to the “owner of any dog,” but what happens when the dog is under the control of another person when the victim is bitten? A keeper or handler may be liable for a victim’s injuries, but not under the strict liability statute. In contrast to an owner, a keeper or handler must have some prior knowledge of the dog’s vicious propensities, such as a prior bite, before he or she can be held liable. Liability can also be shown if the keeper or handler was negligent in their handling or control of the dog at the time of the injury. Negligence is established by showing that the owner or handler was not reasonably careful in controlling the dog under the circumstances and the victim was injured as a result. Landlord’s may also be liable for a victim’s injuries, depending upon their knowledge of the dog’s vicious tendencies.
California Dog Bite Attorney
A dog bite can cause very serious injuries, as well as emotional trauma, that can last long after the incident. If you or a loved one has been injured by a dog bite, you may be able to recover your past and future medical expenses, compensation for pain and suffering, lost wages and possibly punitive damages as well. Contact Lederer & Nojima LLP to talk with an experienced attorney who will aggressively fight to protect your rights.