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Does the Size or Breed of a Dog Affect Liability?

There are two things to consider. The first is that California has breed-specific ordinances with special requirements that may affect liability and damages in the event of a dog bite. For example, a dog owner who owns a dog that has been deemed as dangerous, or which already bit someone, will be subject to a greater duty of care.

The second consideration is that a dog owner can typically purchase home insurance to protect themselves from liability if their dog bites or attacks someone. However, it’s important to understand that a home insurer will consider the breed of your dog when determining whether or not to offer you a policy.


Below, our experienced dog bite attorneys will discuss breed-specific ordinances in California, as well as the dog breeds that a home insurer sometimes will not cover. If you have suffered a dog bite, our expert dog bite attorneys at West Coast Trial Lawyers are always here to answer any questions you may have about dog bite claims and available damages.

Breed-Specific Ordinances in California

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.

There have been 392 deaths in the United States throughout the past 12 years as a result of dog attacks. Approximately 65 percent of these deaths were caused by pitbulls. However, combining pitbull numbers and rottweiler numbers raises the figure to 76 percent. And when you add dog breeds that are considered as “cousins” of pitbulls and rottweilers, the figure rises to nearly 90 percent of all deaths caused by breed-specific dogs.

There are many breeds cited on breed-specific ordinances. They include (but are not limited to):

  • American Pit Bull Terriers
  • American Staffordshire Terriers
  • Staffordshire Bull Terriers
  • And all dogs with the same blood heritage of bull-baiting as featured in the United Kennel Club

California doesn’t specifically target the pitbull over any other breed, but there are ordinances pertaining to the pitbull. According to BSL ordinances, a pitbull over four months old, and all dogs on the BSL, must be licensed. All pitbulls, along with any other dogs on the BSL must also be spayed or neutered. California takes this effort so seriously that $50 vouchers are available for low income families or families with financial hardships to meet this requirement.

Dog Breeds Home Insurance Will Not Cover

Pedestrian Deaths in Los Angeles

The list of dogs below may or may not be covered by a home insurer. These dog breeds are seen as especially dangerous. Many of these dogs were listed above, and therefore, are subject to special requirements.
Doberman Pinscher: This breed sometimes displays issues with dominance and territorialism, which can make them dangerous.
German Shepherd: German Shepherds easily become bored or agitated, and often have problems with people and other animals.
Akita: These dogs were specifically bred for protection and to hunt bears. They require very strict training, otherwise they can become hunters.
Chow: These dogs have very narrow peripheral vision and become startled and irritated very easily.
Great Dane: The size of a Great Dane alone makes them difficult to control. They need to be socialized at an early age so that they do not become a risk to others.
Pit Bull: Pit bulls have a reputation for their aggressive nature due to the culture of dog fighting. These dogs are conditioned to become more angry and aggressive.
Rottweiler: This breed shows aggression towards strangers and is also very territorial.
Siberian Husky: These dogs instinctively chase anything, or anyone, that runs which can make them a risk to children.

California Dangerous Dog Laws

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 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 or 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 to others if it has:

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

California law will consider a dog vicious when it has:

  • Aggressively injured or killed someone without any provocation or
  • The court has previously deemed it potentially dangerous and the dog owner didn’t meet the legal requirements or the dog acted dangerously again.

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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