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.