In most cases, a dog owner is strictly liable for compensating the victim for injuries suffered in a dog bite under California law. However, there are exceptions to this strict liability law. If you suffered injuries in a dog attack, you must consider these exceptions so you know what legal claims you have against the dog owner.
California’s Strict Liability Dog Bite Statute
Under our state’s strict liability law, a dog owner is responsible for paying damages if his animal bites someone—even if the owner wasn't negligent. This means an owner can't avoid liability if he was unaware of his pet's aggressive nature or if the dog never bit someone in the past.
For this law to apply, the victim must have been on public property or lawfully on private property when the dog attack occurred. In addition, he must have suffered injuries as a result of being bitten.
What Are the Exceptions to California’s Strict Liability Law?
While California’s dog bite law can make it easier for victims to hold a dog owner responsible for compensating them for injuries, there are situations where the law doesn't apply. They include:
- No Bite. In order for an owner to be held strictly liable, his dog must have bit the victim. If the dog causes injuries in another way, such as knocking the person down, this statue wouldn't be applicable.
- Trespasser. The victim must have been on public property or lawfully on private property for the strict liability dog bite law to apply. It doesn't protect someone who was trespassing at the time of the attack.
- Provocation. If a victim provoked the dog before being bitten, the dog owner isn't responsible under this law.
- Police or military dogs. Government or military agencies have a defense to strict liability if their dogs bite someone while carrying out duties as a governmental or military animal. However, the agency must have a written policy on how to handle these dogs.
California’s Veterinarian Rule
Under a California Supreme Court ruling, people who work with dogs professionally aren't covered under the strict liability dog bite law. They're considered to have assumed the risk of being bitten. Some of the professionals that this law applies to include:
- Veterinarian technicians
- Dog groomers
- Dog walkers, sitters, and trainers
- Dog kennel employees
- Other individuals who are paid to work with dogs regularly
However, professionals won't be found to have assumed the risk in the following situation:
- The dog displayed aggressive behaviors or bit someone in the past;
- Its owner knew about the bite attack or aggressive behavior; and
- The owner failed to warn a worker about the dog’s prior aggressive behavior or bite attack.
Other Claims You May Have Against the Dog Owner
If your attack falls within an exception to California’s dog bite law, you still may be able to pursue a claim for compensation for your injuries. Here are two legal theories that could apply:
- Scienter. Under California’s common law doctrine of scienter, an owner can be liable for a dog attack if his pet is known to be dangerous or vicious. The dog must have engaged in prior dangerous actions, and its owner must have known of them for this doctrine to be applicable.
- Negligence. If a dog owner didn't use reasonable care to control his animal and prevent it from biting you, he might be found negligent. This makes him responsible for compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Do You Need Help Filing a Claim Following a Dog Bite?
It can be a complicated process to pursue a claim for compensation with the dog owner’s insurance company—even when California’s strict liability dog bite law applies. You can start learning about what to expect when filing a claim by reading my free book, The Ultimate California Dog Bite & Animal Attack Legal Survival Book.
Then, call my office to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation to learn more about your legal options under California law, and how I'll fight to hold the dog owner responsible for your injury compensation.