Dog Bite Liability in California
Dog bites can cause severe injuries and even death. Breed-specific legislation has worked to limit where specific breeds, such as Pit Bulls and German Shepherds, can live, thus providing protection on the community and municipal level. But people still fall prey to dog bites with some regularity, which begs the question of who's responsible for their injuries? Animals are considered property in the eyes of the law, so they can't be liable themselves. Typically, the legal responsibility for dog bites falls on the dog's owner, but liability laws limit the circumstances under which a victim may file a claim against an owner. California has laws in place that protect the rights of victims of dog bites, but those laws are little understood. Because dog bite laws vary from state to state, it's crucial to understand California's dog bite law so you can protect yourself from liability as a dog owner or understand when you have a right to compensation if someone else's dog bites you.
California's Dog Bite Law
California's dog bite statute states that the dog owner is strictly liable for any damages caused by the dog, either from injury or death of a human, another animal, or property. Simply put, you're on the hook if your dog bites someone or causes damage. Strict liability means the defendant is liable for the action no matter his or her intent or mental state. Someone whose dog bites another person might not have any intent for that person to be injured or even have prior knowledge that would give him or her reason to believe his or her dog would attack someone. But, under California law, they are still strictly liable. The owner doesn't need to have done anything wrong to be found liable. This is important to understand because in some states the owner must have prior knowledge of the dog's aggressive behavior to be found liable.
However, as with any law, there are notable exceptions. Chiefly, the owner of the dog is only strictly liable if the attack occurred in public or when the victim is a lawful visitor or guest on the owner's property. If the victim were trespassing on the owner's property, the owner would likely not be liable for the damages.
Dog bite cases can be complex, particularly when the victim is seriously injured. In most cases, dog owners had no reason to suspect their dog would bite someone. Unfortunately, that element does not matter under California law. Californian dog owners are fully responsible for their dogs' actions in many circumstances.
Also, it's important to clarify that if the dog bites someone while with a handler instead of the owner, the law is a little different. A handler can include a dog walker, a trainer, or someone else who has care or control of the dog. If the dog is with a handler when it bites someone, the victim may only have a right to sue the handler if the handler had knowledge of the dog's history of aggressive behavior or bite history. For example, a handler could be found liable if he or she knew the dog was aggressive but did not warn the victim to keep away or muzzle the dog. That would be seen as negligence on the part of the handler, and you could have a right to compensation from a negligent party.
Homeowner's insurance typically covers dog bites, as can other policies such as umbrella insurance. But navigating a dog bite case can be difficult, especially if the dog was with a handler at the time of the attack. Also, the nature of the injury can be a complicating factor. If the victim was injured because he or she was knocked down by the dog—but not bit—the laws may or may not fall in the victim's favor. Municipal laws typically address these secondary injuries, so consult with an attorney who practices in your area to learn about your right to compensation.
An experienced California personal injury attorney can help you navigate your dog bite case while protecting your rights. Cases involving strict liability can be very complex, and so you should never attempt to handle your case on your own. Speak with an attorney about California's dog bite law, municipal codes, and the facts and circumstances of your case. It's vital to take the right steps so you can protect your rights.
Are you facing a personal injury claim? Fresno area personal injury attorney Christopher Martens can help you protect your interests and rights while settling your claim. Attorney Christopher Martens has the skills and knowledge needed to help ensure you receive the compensation you deserve. Serving the Visalia and Fresno areas, The Law Offices of Christopher Martens can provide knowledgeable personal injury claim guidance. Call our office at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] for a free consultation.