California Dog Bite Laws – Understanding Your Rights and Responsibilities

Dog bite injuries have dramatically increased over recent years. In California, approximately 675,000 people are bitten annually. Children under the age of 15 account for almost 65 percent of those victims. More than 70% of victims receive serious head, facial, and neck wounds. A dog attack can cause severe and permanent injuries, as well as emotional trauma that can last a lifetime. If you or a loved one has been bitten by a dog and suffered injuries, contact Freeman & Freeman, LLP. At Freeman & Freeman, LLP, our experienced Woodland Hills dog bites attorneys will aggressively fight to protect your rights and secure compensation for your injuries.

Who is Liable For A Dog Bite Injury in California?

Laws are different in every state, but the common law of all states holds a person responsible for a dog bite if the owner knowingly kept a dog that had previously bitten someone or that had exhibited a tendency to bite someone. This is generally known as the “one free bite” rule because dog owners are not liable if their dog had never bitten anyone before and they were unaware of any vicious tendencies. A dog handler could also be liable if he or she was negligent in controlling the dog at the time of the injury. Some states, such as California, have passed stricter laws concerning dog bites.

California’s Strict Liability Statute

The “one free bite” rule has been eliminated in California. State statutory law now holds a dog owner liable even if his or her dog has never bitten anyone or shown a tendency to bite. Liability is based upon ownership and the dog’s past behavior does not matter. In California, a victim of a dog bite must show the following in order to recover:

  • The dog was owned by the defendant,
  • The biting incident 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 suffered an injury.

Dog Owner Defenses

A dog owner may have a defense under the statute if he or she can prove any one of the following:

  • Trespass: if the victim trespassed on the property where the dog bite occurred, the owner may claim this defense. However, this is a defense under the statute only, and the owner may be sued for common law negligence.
  • No bite: the statute applies only to injuries caused by an actual bite. If the victim was injured by being jumped on or knocked down, there is no liability under the statute (again common law negligence may be alleged).
  • Assumption of the risk: if the victim assumed the risk of injury, such as intentionally provoking the dog, the owner would not be liable.

Other Responsible Parties

The California statute applies to the “owner of any dog.” However, when the dog is under the control of another person at the time of the injury, a keeper or handler may still be liable. Liability is based not upon the statute, but upon common law rules. In contrast to an owner, a keeper or handler must have had some prior knowledge of the dog’s vicious tendencies (such as a prior bite) to be liable. Liability can also be shown if the keeper or handler was negligent in handling or controlling the dog. Landlords may also be responsible for injuries in situations where they had knowledge of a dog’s vicious tendencies.

Learn Your Options Today

A dog bite can result in serious physical injury, as well as traumatic emotional wounds (especially in children). If you or a loved one has been bitten in a dog attack, you may be able to recover compensation for your injuries. This may include, but is not limited to, past and future medial costs, lost wages, pain and suffering, and possibly punitive damages. Contact our experienced attorneys today for a free case evaluation at 818-992-2919.

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