Animal Bites Law
While dogs are amongst humanity’s closet animal friends, there are times when this closeness can end in harm. Dog bite laws exist to protect individuals who suffer the trauma of a bad canine encounter, giving them a means to claim damages from a dog’s owner after a dog bite. In California, dog bites overwhelmingly account for the majority of injuries by animals suffered by its residents.
Nationwide, approximately 4.5 million dog bites happen each year. As a result, it is important for both dog bite victims and dog owners to know where the law places responsibility.
California state law says that the owner of a dog is liable for damages if it bites any person who is in a public place or lawfully in a private place. This is true regardless of whether the dog has previously been vicious or the owner had any prior knowledge of its vicious nature.
In California, this means that a person who you have allowed onto your property – whether by clear invitation or by implied consent – could sue you for damages if your dog bites them. This law also covers visitors who are required to be on your property by law, including postal workers and police officers.
California provides an exemption for dogs that are performing a police or military function, where the dog was either being provoked or harassed, or was supporting:
This exception does not apply where the victim of a bite is not involved in, or suspected of, the act that required the use of the dog.
It is important to note that the law specifically covers dog bites, and not injuries caused by a dog doing anything else – for example, jumping up at somebody and knocking them over. If a person sustains injuries from these kinds of dog attack, they may still be able to bring a negligence claim against the dog owner.
As California has a strict liability approach to dog bites, there are limited defenses to a claim available. Strict liability means that an owner cannot claim they did not know about the dog’s potential for viciousness. California does not use any version of the “one bite” rule, which says dog owners in some states are not liable for a dog’s first biting incident.
Negligence is also not a factor in Californian dog bite cases. This means dog owners cannot argue that they had taken reasonable steps to prevent the dog from biting anybody.
One of the key defenses that a dog owner might be able to make is that the person who was bitten was not lawfully on the owner’s property at the time the bite happened. If, for example, a person was trespassing on the dog owner’s property with the intention of stealing something, they would likely not be considered to be lawfully on the property.
You must file a claims for damages within two years of the dog bite happening. It is important to have recorded as much about the incident as possible – including medical reports of any injuries and treatment, details of any witnesses, and any other evidence that could support your case. A dog bite attorney will be able to provide more advice on the strength of your claim and the compensation you might be able to claim.