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California Dog Bite Law
The state of California imposes strict liability for dog bite injuries. A dog owner is legally responsible for damages and injuries caused as a result of a dog bite. Whether the dog bites another animal or person, it is important to comprehend how California law treats dogs after they inflict an injury with a bite and what rights and responsibilities the victims and owners have.
Dog attacks in California are a common problem, injuring over 38,000 local residents per year. (California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, Dog Bites: Emergency Department Data 2010-2015)
California is a statutory strict liability state. Its dog bite statute makes the owner of a dog responsible for a dog bite from the moment he or she owns the dog, provided that the victim was not illegally trespassing a private property, provoking the dog, injured by his employer's dog while on company time, or performing a paid job involving the dog. In California, the victim is not required by law to prove negligence.
California Dog Bite Civil Code section 3342.
(a) The owner of any dog is liable for the damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner's knowledge of such viciousness. A person is lawfully upon the private property of such owner within the meaning of this section when he is on such property in the performance of any duty imposed upon him by the laws of this state or by the laws or postal regulations of the United States, or when he is on such property upon the invitation, express or implied, of the owner.
(b) Nothing in this section shall authorize the bringing of an action pursuant to subdivision (a) against any governmental agency using a dog in military or police work if the bite or bites occurred while the dog was defending itself from an annoying, harassing, or provoking act, or assisting an employee of the agency in any of the following:
(1) In the apprehension or holding of a suspect where the employee has a reasonable suspicion of the suspect's involvement in criminal activity.
(2) In the investigation of a crime or possible crime.
(3) In the execution of a warrant.
(4) In the defense of a peace officer or another person.
(c) Subdivision (b) shall not apply in any case where the victim of the bite or bites was not a party to, nor a participant in, nor suspected to be a party to or a participant in, the act or acts that prompted the use of the dog in the military or police work.
(d) Subdivision (b) shall apply only where a governmental agency using a dog in military or police work has adopted a written policy on the necessary and appropriate use of a dog for the police or military work enumerated in subdivision (b).
Damages Available For Dog Bite Cases In California
In California, any person who is injured as a result of a dog bite can file a lawsuit to claim monetary compensation for any expenses related to the dog bite injury.
In our experience, some of the most common damages we sought for clients who are victims of a dog bite are:
Physical therapy expenses
Loss of future earnings
Pain and suffering
Loss of the use of a limb as a result of the dog bite
Psychological counseling, when the incident has caused emotional distress and panic of dogs.
In some dog bite injury cases, California courts may also award punitive damages to the victim. This type of compensation is in addition to those listed above. While compensatory damages are meant to restore the victim’s quality of life to the same as it was before the dog bite injury, punitive damages are meant to punish the responsible party.
Because of this, punitive damages are not awarded in every dog bite injury case. Instead, they are only awarded when the dog owner, showed negligence or malice with total disregard for the safety of others. For example, if a dog owner trained the dog to bite or attack, or saw the attack was happening and did absolutely nothing to stop it.
Statute of Limitations for Dog Bites in California
It is important that when a dog bites someone and that the person wishes to file a civil lawsuit, immediate action is required. California’s statute of limitations on dog bite cases is just two years.
This means that dog bite victims must file a lawsuit within two years from the date of the dog bite or attack. However, the longer time goes by without taking action, it's more difficult to prove liability. The courts are very likely to throw out any claims filed after two years.