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California’s Law on Dog Bites


In personal injury law, the strict liability standard holds the defendant liable and responsible for the victim’s damages regardless of fault or negligence. California follows the strict liability rule when it comes to dog bite cases. Pursuant to California Civil Code Section 3342, a dog bite victim can recover damages for dog bite attacks without needing to prove that the dog owner did anything wrong.  Your settlement may cover past and future medical expenses, loss of income, loss of consortium, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life. This law protects people on public property or who are lawfully on private property  such as guests, mailmen, police officers, and others who are performing a duty imposed by the state or by postal regulations. However, the statutory strict liability only applies to dog bites. If you are injured in any manner other than a bite such as breaking a bone because of a dog jumping on you, you may have a common law strict liability claim. As with any personal injury case in California, the statute of limitations to recover damages for a dog bite injury is two years from the date of injury.  

General Exceptions to the Strict Liability Rule

Under the California dog bite statute, there are two instances in which you would not be able to recover damages for a dog bite injury.

  1. You were trespassing on private property when the injury occurred. Entering onto a dog owner’s property without the owner’s express or implied permission constitutes as trespassing. Trespass is considered in a technical, not criminal, sense for dog bite cases. This means that the entry does not require unlawful intent.
  1. The bite occurred while a dog was acting in capacity for a governmental agency such as the military or police. Governmental agencies are immune from liability when the dog is assisting in capturing a suspect, executing a warrant, investigating a crime, or defending an officer. However, if the victim of the dog bite was an innocent bystander and not a participant in the act that prompted the use of the dog, the victim may be entitled to compensation.

Defenses to Liability

California courts have in the past not found the dog owner liable in cases of provocation, negligence, and assumption of risk.

  • If someone gets bitten and injured after provoking, harassing, or mistreating a dog, the dog owner would not be held liable. Sufficient and actual provocation would need to be proved, so an act such as walking towards a dog would not constitute provocation.
  • A dog owner may evade liability if it can be shown that the victim negligently contributed to the dog bite. Actions such as reaching to pet a dog or holding packages and walking towards a dog and its owner are not enough to constitute contributory negligence.
  • If someone took an action despite prior knowledge of the danger involved, that person “assumed the risk” and would not be able to recover damages from the dog owner. In California, the assumption of risk is inherent for all people who handle dogs under the scope of their employment, such as veterinarians, dog trainers, and dog walkers.

How do I receive compensation?

Dog bites can result in drastic injuries and even permanent scarring or disfigurement. The first and most important concern is to get immediate medical care, but many victims will be worried about the financial burden of their medical bills and other damages. In dog bite cases, compensation for damages usually comes from the homeowner’s or renters’ insurance policy. In the case that the dog owner is uninsured or underinsured, there may be additional coverage through an umbrella insurance policy, excess insurance policy, or canine liability policy. If necessary, a dog bite victim may recover damages directly from the dog owner’s assets. 

Why do I need a lawyer?

Although dog bite cases follow a strict liability rule in California, each case can be different depending on the circumstances. Even if you were not trespassing or the dog was not on duty for a governmental agency, dog owners have had several defenses available to them in California courts. In addition, insurance companies responsible to pay for your damages will do everything possible to pay you pennies on a dollar or even find a way to deny your claim in its entirety. An experienced California dog bite attorney will help you obtain a full compensation for all damages suffered. Having a lawyer by your side will ensure that you take the steps necessary to have a strong claim. Do not contact an insurance company or provide them with any information because they may try to minimize your damages and even deny your entire claim.

Our qualified dog bite lawyers at West Coast Trial Lawyers are ready to help you get the compensation you deserve if you are injured in a dog bite accident. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation. Get started on your case today by calling (888) 888-9285 or emailing [email protected].



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