Dog Bite Injuries

Being bitten by a dog can be a traumatizing experience, sometimes leaving emotional scars that last long after the physical wounds have healed. Often it is not the dog who is at fault, but the owner. California generally holds the owner of the dog to a high standard of responsibility. However, you may also have a claim against others, such as the dog’s caretaker or a landlord.

Dog bite statute

California Civil Code Sections 3342-3342.5 lay out the law related to a dog owner’s liability and related duties. Here are the highlights:

  • Strict liability: If a dog bite victim is in a public place (or lawfully in a private place, including on the dog owner’s property), the owner is liable for the injury. This is true regardless of whether the dog has been aggressive before, and regardless of whether the owner knew of the dog’s viciousness. (In some states there is a “one bite rule” that limits an owner’s liability for the first bite, if the owner did not know the dog was dangerous.)
  • Exception to liability for police dogs: If the dog is a military or police dog engaged in that type of work, the liability described above does not apply if the dog was defending itself from harassment or provocation. It also does not apply if there was reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, and the dog was assisting with a criminal investigation, executing a warrant, or defending another person. For the agency to avoid liability, it must have a written policy in place for employing the use of dogs in this way. Additionally, if the bite victim had nothing to do with the criminal activity (i.e., a bystander), there can still be liability.
  • Duty to remove danger: When a dog bites someone, the owner has a duty to take reasonable action to protect others from future bites.
  • Court intervention: If a dog has bitten someone twice, or a dog trained to fight, attack, or kill has bitten and caused substantial injury, an action can be brought in court against the owner to determine whether conditions have changed so as to remove the danger. If not, the court has the power to enter an order to prevent another bite, including removal or destruction of the dog. This does not apply to the bite of a trespasser or by a police/military dog while doing that type of work.

While the dog bite statute imposes strict liability for the dog’s owner, the statute’s reach is limited by its terms. First, it is limited to dog bites (rather than other injuries caused by a dog, such as being knocked down). While the “bite” does not have to break the skin, there still must be a bite for the dog bite statute to apply.

Second, the dog bite statute only allows you to sue the dog’s owner. If someone else was in control of the dog at the time, you’ll have to use a different theory of liability to bring a claim against that party.

Other forms of liability

The dog bite statute is one way to obtain compensation for a dog bite injury. However, as discussed above, you’ll need another avenue if the circumstances are not covered by the statute. Here are some other ways to sue for an injury caused by a dog:

  • Negligence: For cases not covered by the dog bite statute, you still have the option of bringing a claim based on the negligence of the person responsible.
  • Local ordinances: Depending on where you live, there may be local ordinances (such as a leash law) under which you might be able to claim damages.
  • Labor code: If you are bitten by a dog on the job (for instance, a delivery person is bitten while trying to deliver a package), you may be able to make a claim under your employer’s workers compensation plan.

As you can see, the dog bite statute is one of multiple ways to bring a claim if you are bitten by a dog. Whether or not you can win your case will depend on the circumstances. The court will consider all relevant facts, including whether you were at fault (i.e., if you provoked the dog or were trespassing on the dog owner’s property, etc.). The first step in determining the strength of your case is contacting an experienced personal injury attorney.

Helix Law Firm can help with your dog bite case

If you have been injured by a dog, you may be entitled to damages for your injuries. At Helix Law Firm, we can help you obtain the compensation you need to move on with your life.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Helix can help, please call us at (619) 567-4447 to schedule a free consultation.

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