You may be entitled to compensation for injuries if you're bitten by a dog in California—even if this is the first time the dog hurt anyone. However, the animal owner’s insurance company could raise defenses when you file a claim to try to deny it or pay you less than you deserve.
It's important to understand what defenses could be raised in your case. If you anticipate them, you can provide the proper evidence that solidifies your case and your eventual settlement. A San Diego dog bite lawyer can help.
California’s Dog Bite Laws
There are a number of ways to hold a dog owner and others liable under California dog bite laws if you experience an incident. Here are three laws that may help you:
- Strict liability. Under California Civil Code § 3342, a dog’s owner is strictly liable if it bites someone and causes injuries, even if the animal hasn't hurt someone before. The victim must have been on public property or lawfully on private property at the time of the attack.
- Scienter. An owner or someone caring for the dog can be held responsible under the scienter doctrine if they knew the animal was vicious or dangerous.
- Negligence. You may be able to file a negligence claim against the dog’s owners and other caregivers—such as dog sitters, veterinarians, and dog trainers—if their failure to use reasonable care to control the dog caused your injuries.
Four Defenses That Could Be Raised in Your Case
Dog owners and others facing liability have numerous defenses they might raise in settlement negotiations and a civil lawsuit. Here are four that could apply in your case.
Not the Owner
California’s strict liability law only applies to the dog owner. If you are bitten on someone’s property, this doesn't mean they're the owner or have any other responsibility for the animal. It could have gotten loose or been under the control of someone else, such a dog sitter.
The strict liability dog bite law only applies if the attack was on public property or you were lawfully on private property. If you were trespassing, the dog owner could argue that they face no liability. This argument could also be raised if you file a claim based on scienter or negligence.
The dog's owner could claim that you harassed, provoked, or annoyed the dog and that this caused the attack. Under California’s pure comparative negligence laws, the amount of compensation you receive can be reduced by your percentage of fault. For example, if you were found 40 percent to blame, you would only be entitled to 60 percent of claim damages.
No Dog Bite
There must be a dog bite for the strict liability law to apply. The skin doesn't need to be punctured, but there must be evidence of injury. However, if the dog knocked you down but didn't bite you or otherwise caused your injuries, you may be able to pursue a scienter or negligence claim against the owner and other liable parties.
When the Dog Bite Victim Is a Child
If the victim of a dog attack is a child, special rules apply to their claim. Under California law, a child under five years old cannot be found negligent. This means that a dog owner can't raise the child’s actions in provoking the dog as a defense to their claim for compensation if the dog bit them.
In addition, the settlement of a minor’s claim must be approved by the court. Different rules apply if it's reached with or without litigation. Get in touch with a San Diego dog bite attorney.