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When it comes to dog bites, California is a strict liability state. As long as a dog bite occurred in a public place or lawfully on private property -- including the dog owner’s property -- the dog owner will be held liable for any injuries. Dog bites are emotionally and physically devastating injuries and will always require medical attention. Despite how violent a dog bite can be, there are steps you can take to minimize the risk and severity of an attack. There are also clear warning signs.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that more than 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs annually, resulting in an estimated 800,000 injuries that require medical attention. Injuries from a dog bite make up 85% to 90% of animal bites in the U.S., and 1% of injury-related visits to the emergency room.

In 2018, California had the largest number of dog bite claims and the highest average cost per claim at $45,543.

If you have suffered injuries after a dog bite, you may be entitled to compensatory damages for:

  • Lost wages
  • Medical bills
  • Property loss
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of consortium
  • Loss of earning capacity

1. What Are California’s Dog Bite Laws?

According to California Civil Code Section 3342, a dog owner will be held liable for damages when:

  • a victim’s injuries were caused by a dog bite
  • a victim was bitten in a public place or while lawfully on private property

However, this statute does not apply to any victims who suffered a dog bite while a dog was engaged in police or military work. Also, it is necessary for an injury to be caused by a dog bite, and not by another behavior on the dog’s part.

For example, imagine that a child is reading on a public sidewalk and a dog jumps on him or her, accidentally scratching that child's face and causing minor injuries.

However, because the child’s injury was not caused by an actual bite, this statute will not apply. Instead, standard California negligence rules apply. Ultimately, this means an injured victim who was not bitten must prove that the dog owner’s negligence was the primary cause of any injuries sustained.

1.1 What is The One Bite Law?

Many states actually abide by what’s known as the "one bite rule." This means that these states will not impose liability for a dog bite unless the owner was aware that his or her dog had already bitten someone or had previously proven to be dangerous.

The state of California does not follow this “one bite rule.” In contrast to “one bite rule” states, California will impose strict liability after a dog bite. An aggrieved party does not have to prove the dog who bit them had bitten before, displayed aggressive tendencies, or even that the dog owner acted negligently.

California law will impose an added duty of care on a dog owner if their dog had previously displayed it was capable of violent behavior. Any owner of such a dog is required to take reasonable steps to keep that dog from biting or attacking anyone. Failure to do so may result in liability.

1.2 Strict Liability in a Dog Bite Case

In relation to dog bites, California is a strict liability state. This means a dog owner cannot escape liability for a dog bite even if they had no idea that their dog would behave aggressively. According to strict liability, a dog owner will be held responsible for any damages resulting from a dog bite, whether the dog had previously bitten someone or not.

In summary, if you suffered a dog bite, you only need to prove the bite occurred when you were in a public place or while lawfully on someone’s private property. In such instances, there is no requirement for an aggrieved individual to show the dog owner was negligent or didn’t take reasonable care.

1.3 When Can I Sue and Not Sue for a Dog Bite?

As mentioned, California Civil Code section 3342 is the state's primary civil dog bite statute. According to CC 3342, a dog owner will automatically be held liable for injuries caused to others if:

  • the victim did not provoke the dog into biting
  • the victim was bitten while in public or on private property 

More than 50% of dog bites occur on the dog owner’s property, and they account for one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claims. According to State Farm, the company paid $132 million as a result of 3,600 dog-related injury claims in 2017.

A dog bite victim will NOT usually be entitled to damages in California when:

1.4 What Happens to the Dog That Bit Me?

California dog bite quarantine laws mandate that any dogs who have bitten someone must be quarantined for ten days. This period of time is necessary to ensure that the animal is not carrying rabies.

The dog will usually be allowed to remain on the owner’s property during this time. Once it has been determined that the dog is healthy, it will be released back into the owner's care.

Dogs who bite people are not typically euthanized. Euthanasia is only permitted by law for dogs who bite in California if:

  • the dog had already bitten someone on two separate occasions
  • the dog was trained to attack or kill, had bitten once, and that bite caused substantial physical injury

Any dogs who meet the above requirements can be taken away from their owners and can be euthanized after a hearing. A hearing process can be initiated by any individual, including the dog bite victim, a concerned member of the community, or a government official.

2. Types of Dog Bite Cases

Below are the four most common types of dog bite cases:

  • Dog On Dog Attacks: Dog on dog aggression is dangerous because it has the potential to cause injuries to people and dogs. A homeowner’s insurance policy may cover a person’s damages in such an incident, including pain and suffering, but unfortunately a dog’s pain and suffering is not covered.

  • Non-Aggressive Dog Attacks. Instances where a non-aggressive dog unintentionally attacks a human by knocking them over or tripping them are common. Large breeds in particular can easily weigh more than some people. A large, excitable dog can easily knock down and injure a person they may just be happy to see.

  • Dangerous Dog Breeds There are some dogs that are inherently dangerous and have already been known to attack and bite people. It’s important to know that a vast majority of homeowner’s insurance policies will exclude coverage for any damages caused by dangerous dog breeds, such as Pit Bulls and Rottweilers. In California, dangerous dog breeds are governed by breed specific ordinances that, among other things, mandate that such breeds must be registered and spayed/neutered.

  • Dog Attacks On Children. A dog attack on a child will always raise unique liability issues, because dog bites and attacks on children require treatment not only for physical injuries, but for emotional and mental trauma. In the worst cases, dog attacks on children can be fatal. A victim of such an attack may also be entitled to punitive damages on top of the normal damages they may already be entitled to.

3. Available Damages in a Dog Bite Claim

Dog bite victims in California are typically entitled to compensation for their losses.

Compensatory damages may include:

  • Emotional Distress
  • Scarring
  • Lost wages
  • Medical bills
  • Property loss
  • Loss of limb(s)
  • Lost earning capacity
  • Psychological counseling
  • Physical/vocational therapy

Further, the surviving family members of anyone who was killed by a dog may be entitled to damages on the decedent’s behalf. Such a claim would be filed as a wrongful death case and would possibly entitle survivors to additional damages.

3.1 Suing for Punitive Damages

An aggrieved individual may be able to recover punitive damages in certain cases. Punitive damages are rarely awarded and are intended to punish a defendant who has engaged in particularly egregious behavior.

In order for a dog bite victim to recover punitive damages, he or she must prove with clear and convincing evidence that the dog owner’s actions were fraudulent or malicious in nature.

This essentially means the dog owner acted “with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.”

3.2 Statute of Limitations for a Dog Bite Claim

All states have a statute of limitations which places a deadline on a personal injury lawsuit. A dog bite case is considered as a personal injury claim. California’s statute of limitation on a personal injury case is two years. This means that an injured dog bite victim has two years from the time the dog bite first occurred in order to preserve their rights and file a claim in court.

4. More Dog Bite and Cat Bite Resources

  • Cat Bite Law │Call for a Free Consultation

    Cats are more mysterious than dogs, and it can be difficult to know when they’re about to attack, but when they do the damages can be severe.

  • Los Angeles Dog Park Laws

    Most of these regulations are straightforward and common sense. A few, however, are not so obvious and a dog owner can easily violate them without meaning to.

  • California Leash Law

    California has very strict leash laws. In California, it is illegal to leash a dog to any stationary object, including fences, poles, and trees without proper food and shelter.

  • Reporting Dog Bites │Call for a Free Consultation

    Reporting a dog bite to the proper authorities is not only lawful but responsible. These rules and regulations were set in place for the protection of the public.

  • Does the Size or Breed of a Dog Affect Liability?

    Most states, California included, have breed specific laws for dogs. These breed specific laws are primarily targeted at pitbulls and other breeds included in the pitbull line, as well as other dogs mixed with pitbull blood.

  • Bites From a Service Dog

    In California, a person with a disability is allowed to possess and carry a trained service or psychiatric dog into most public areas. However, just because the dog is trained to perform a duty, does not mean that it can’t misinterpret a command or act inappropriately all together.

  • What if My Dog Was Provoked?

    Sometimes, a dog can be provoked into attacking someone as a form of defense. If your dog was provoked into biting someone, this person could be held liable for causing their own injuries, depending on a couple of factors, such as the breed and behavior of the dog. 

  • My Child Was Bitten by a Dog │Call for a Free Consultation

    Children are curious younglings who might not be aware how to handle being around dogs. They might get too excited around a dog, causing the dog to react by biting. 

  • Dog on Dog Violence 

    Dog on dog violence is an instinctual and territorial nature of dogs. What happens when your dog gets attacked by another dog? 

  • Dog Bit a Trespasser │Call for a Free Consultation

    Dog owners owe a duty of care to people who come into contact with their dog. However, for trespassers who come into contact with a dog while illegally present on a property, dog and property owners don’t owe them a duty of care. 

  • Los Angeles Dog Park Laws 

    Dog park laws are put in place for the safety of the public. Some Los Angeles dog park laws include: dogs must be leashed at all times, defecation must be properly disposed of, and dogs must be spayed or neutered. 

  • Dog Bite No Injury

    Sometimes, a dog might bite, but leave no injury. While the experience might not have left physical damage, it could leave a mark on the mental health and well-being of a victim.

  • Dog Bite Consequences │Call for a Free Consultation

    Dog bites can leave victims seriously injured and dog owners with serious consequences. California has a one bite rule concerning dogs, which means after one incident of a dog bite, a dog owner is liable for all future dog bites from their animal. 

  • California Dog Bite Law │Call for a Free Consultation

    Californians love their furry canine friends, but there exist certain laws against them in order to protect public safety. Some of these laws refer to dog breed, dog bites, and strict liability for dog bites.

  • Dog Bite Prevention Techniques │Call for a Free Consultation

    While some dog bites happen suddenly without any warning, there are several techniques that exist to prevent bites from happening. Some of these techniques for dog owners include socializing their dog and being a responsible owner.

  • How to Tell When a Dog Is About to Bite │ West Coast Trial Lawyers

    There are some warning signs that can show when a dog is about to bite. Some of these warning signs include growling, yawning, and tensing up of the body. 

  • Dog Bite Treatment │Call for a Free Consultation

    Dog bite injuries require treatment particular to the type of injury sustained from the dog bite. Some common dog bite injury treatments include cleaning and bandaging the injury. However, further medical attention might be required depending on the severity of the bite. 

  • What to Do When a Dog Attacks You │Call for a Free Consultation

    There are certain ways to react when a dog is attacking you to prevent the attack from happening and minimize the damage you experience if you are attacked. 

  • Dog Bite Lawsuit - No Insurance 

    Some dogs might not be covered by insurance from their owners. In the case of an accident, by a dog who is uninsured, there are still options to receive financial compensation for the injuries sustained from the dog bite.

  • Dog Bite vs Dog Scratch 

    The difference between a dog bite and a dog scratch depends on the severity of the injury. Typically, dog bites are more severe due to the sharpness of the teeth, however, nails can also leave equally painful injuries. 

  • Dog Bite Statute of Limitations in California 

    California has a standard statute of limitations, which means the period of time a person has to file a lawsuit since the date of the accident. This statute of limitations also applies to dog bite cases as well. 

  • Elements of a Dog Bite Case 

    There are a couple of different elements considered in a dog bite case that influence the outcome of the case. Some of these elements include the type of injury, the breed and the behavior of the dog. 

  • Strict Liability and Breed Specific Ordinance

    California is a strict liability state, which means that when it comes to dog bites, owners are always responsible for the injuries caused. However, this excludes the first bite a dog gives, per the one bite rule. Some dog breeds are considered to be more dangerous than others and might be excluded from the one bite rule as a response. 

  • Types of Dog Bite Injury │Call for a Free Consultation

    There exist many different types of dog bite injuries, depending on the location on the body and the severity of the injury. Some types of dog bites injuries include bites, scratches, and any of those caused from a fall due to a dog jumping on a person. 

  • Types of Dog Bite Cases │Call for a Free Consultation

    The type of dog bite case depends on the type of dog bite injury was sustained, the breed of the dog, and the circumstances under which the dog bite occurred. 

  • Who Is Liable in a Dog Bite Case?

    Typically, a dog owner will be found liable in a dog bite case. However, liability depends on a number of different factors, including whether or not a dog was provoked or bit a trespasser, for example. 

  • Steps Bicyclist Should Take When Attacked by a Dog │Legal Analysis

    Dogs are territorial and instinctively protective animals. When a bike rider might be speeding past their home, they might perceive the bicyclists to be a threat or sport to catch. The bike rider can suffer injuries from a dog attack for which a dog owner may be liable for.

  • Dog Walkers and Dog Bite Liability

    What happens when a dog attacks someone while in the care of a dog walker? The dog owner and the dog walker may be liable for these injuries. What happens if the dog attacks the dog owner?

West Coast Trial Lawyers Is Here to Help

If you have sustained injuries as a result of a dog bite, you have the right to hold the party at fault responsible. A dog bite attorney at our firm can help you recover financial compensation for the losses you have suffered, including medical bills, property damage, lost wages, and pain and suffering from your injury.

Call us today at (213) 927-3700 or email [email protected] to schedule a free consultation with our experienced, caring and compassionate legal team.


CACI No. 400 Negligence - Essential Factual Elements. Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) (2017 edition). Justia.

CACI No. 1001. Basic Duty of Care. Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) (2017 edition). Justia.

CALCRIM No. 3470. Right to Self-Defense of Defense of Another (Non-Homicide). California Criminal Jury Instructions (CALCRIM) (2017 edition). Justia. California Courts - The Judicial Branch of California. Statute of Limitations.

Civil Code 3342. Division 4. General Provisions [3247 - 9566]. Part 1. Relief [3274 -3428]. Title 2. Compensatory Relief [3281 - 3360]. Chapter 2 Measure of Damages [[3300. - 3360]. Article 2. Damages for Wrongs [3333 - 3343.7]. California Legislative Information.

Civil Code 3342.5. Division 4. General Provisions [3247 - 9566]. Part 1. Relief [3274 -3428]. Title 2. Compensatory Relief [3281 - 3360]. Chapter 2 Measure of Damages [[3300. - 3360]. Article 2. Damages for Wrongs [3333 - 3343.7]. California Legislative Information.

County of Los Angeles Public Health. Rabies Control Manual. 

Dogs Bite. California Breed-Specific Laws.


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