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California Dog Bite Law and Liability

All About California Dog Bite Liability

Below, our experienced dog bite attorneys will discuss California’s most important dog bite laws. If you have suffered a dog bite, West Coast Trial Lawyers is always here to answer any questions you may have about dog bite claims and available damages.

California 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 law 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.

The statute of limitations for personal injury is 2 years starting from the initial date of the incident. If the aggrieved individual exceeds the deadline, then they will no longer be eligible to file a lawsuit against the dog owner. Exceptions may apply if the aggrieved individual is:

  • A minor
  • Living out-of-state
  • Legally identified as insane
  • Incarcerated
  • Physically or mentally impaired

Strict Liability for a Dog Bite

Pedestrian Deaths in Los Angeles

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 he or she 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.

Defenses Against Dog Bite Liability

The main exception to dog bite liability is when a trespasser is bitten on someone else’s property. California dog bite laws require that an individual needs to be bitten in a public place or lawfully on someone’s private property in order to file a claim for damages. Therefore, a trespasser is not entitled to any legal recourse.

There are two more possible defenses, which are when a dog was involved in military or police work and when a dog was provoked into biting someone. It’s important to add that a police or military dog needs to be presently engaged in active duty when the bite occurred.

Dangerous Dog Laws in California

There are laws in California which require a dog owner to take extra caution when their dog has already bitten someone. None of the previously mentioned defenses will apply when a dog has bitten someone at least twice. Legal action can be taken by anyone against such a dog owner. In cases where a dog has bitten twice, or has been trained to attack, a court may order that animal to be removed from the area or even have it euthanized.

In California, law enforcement officials or animal control may request a hearing against a dog if they believe it is a serious threat to others. If the court determines that such a dog is a threat, the dog owner will be required to keep the dog indoors, on a leash, and inside a fenced yard where no children or animals can enter. A dog owner who does not follow these requirements will be fined.
How is a dog determined to be a danger to others? Any dog can be considered dangerous if it has:

  • Displayed aggressive behavior on at least 2 occasions within a three year span that forced someone to defend themselves.
  • Injured or killed someone without any provocation
  • Injured or killed a domestic animal at least twice in the past 3 years.

Once evidence has been proven that the dog is a danger around people and animals, the court will identify it as a vicious animal. The dog owner will be ordered to follow legal requirements to ensure the safety of others.

Available Damages

Accidents happen. If you were injured as a result of someone else’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation for your losses. Below is a brief explanation of damages. Damages are a type of monetary award that is determined by a court of law to help compensate an aggrieved individual for any losses or injuries sustained as a result of someone’s negligence.

Economic Damages
Economic damages are intended to compensate a plaintiff for losses that a dollar amount can readily be attached to. Economic damages are calculated by determining the amount of out-of-pocket losses an aggrieved individual has or will expect to incur as a result of their injuries.

A few examples of economic losses include:

  • Loss of Earning Capacity
  • Medical Bills
  • Lost Wages

Non-Economic Damages
Non-economic damages are essentially intended to cover losses that are thought of as subjective and will not necessarily cover out-of-pocket losses. Non-economic damages may include compensation for:

  • Emotional Distress
  • Pain and Suffering
  • Loss of Enjoyment of Life

Punitive Damages
The third type of damages a California court may award are known as punitive damages. Punitive damages are intended as punishment and are only awarded when a defendant’s behavior is especially harmful. Punitive damages are relatively rare and in fact were only incorporated in 5 percent of all verdicts.

Furthermore, there is no real set standard for calculating and awarding punitive damages. Punitive damages are awarded at the court’s discretion and will vary depending on the specific circumstances of a case.

Limitations for Damages in California 
For the most part, there is no real cap on compensatory damages following a personal injury claim. This means that courts are able to award any amount they feel is appropriate and reasonable.

However, the only exception is regarding medical malpractice cases. In these cases, the limit for pain and suffering and other non-economic losses is $250,000.

West Coast Trial Lawyers Is Here to Help 

If you are a dog bite victim and need help getting legal advice, West Coast Trial Lawyers has experienced dog bite attorneys that will help you recover financial compensation for the losses you have suffered, including medical bills, property damage, lost wages, and pain and suffering. We offer a free, no-obligation consultation at our firm. No fees are paid until your case is settled. Reach out to our legal team 24/7 by calling (213) 927-3700 or emailing [email protected].


If you have been injured in an accident, you can count on the legal team at West Coast Trial Lawyers to fight for your rights every step of the way. Contact us today to schedule your free case evaluation with a personal injury attorney.
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