Negligent Landlords: Proving fault on a California landlord for a Bad Dog owned by a Tenant That Bit a Person!

This situation arises often. A property owner (landlord) rents property to the dog owner (tenant). The dog then bites a person either inside the rented premises or outside in the neighborhood. It is clear the tenant is at fault for failing to control his or her dog, but usually the tenant has no insurance to go after to make the dog bite victim whole. They usually do not own anything or have renters insurance, or savings to cover the damages. 
In California, you have to prove two elements in order to obtain liability (fault) against the property owner or landlord. However, that is usually the legal problem or chal- lenge often times in obtaining liability (fault) against the property owner in proving that the property owner, if the property was rented to the dog owner, had:

1. prior notice of the dog’s vicious propensities, 

2. in addition to knowing the dog was there on the premises!

These elements can be difficult to prove due to inefficiency of documenting evidence soon after a dog owned by a renter has bitten someone causing bodily injury. Evidence is sometimes destroyed or rearranged too. It is crucial you obtain all witness information quickly in order to help satisfy the elements against a landlord that knew a dangerous dog was living in his or her rented properties.

California law makes landlords take responsibility for the reasonable inspection of their properties; and if a dangerous dog could have been discovered upon reasonable inspection, you still need to prove the landlord knew of the danger the dog posed being on said property. An experienced California dog bite injury attorney can help with a case that involves a negligent landlord.

You can grab a FREE copy of my Ultimate California Dog Bite Legal Survival Book if you are either a California resident, or have been injured in a California dog bite incident - in the book, there is a chapter that focuses on California landlord dog bite liability - it's a great read and will definitely provide guidance in this specific area of dog bite fault for your pending legal claim. There really isn't a whole lot of information out there on California landlord dog bites (dogs owned by a tenant that bites someone, etc.). If your a California landlord, you may just want this book for your home library!

What We Do to Help Injured Folks in California Landlord Dog Bite Liability Cases: 

Here, in the examples we are discussing, the property owner is “usually” also the California landlord. Some of the ways we prove and meet this hurdle is by interviewing those who manage the home such as gardeners, pool men, including those who would have any contact with the property and/or the property owner. Neighbors are an excellent source for us and we can obtain witness statements from them to help prove this prior knowledge of the dog’s presence and prior dangerous conditions. Hopefully, in the past, a neighbor had notified the property owner of the dog’s vicious propensity. We obtain their declarations before the filing of the lawsuit. Sometimes a lawsuit is not necessary as the claim may settle once the claims adjuster knows of the impending evidence against their insured. Postal carriers are another great resource. Postmen and Postwomen report incidents to their supervisors of dog bites or of vicious dogs. Their postal supervisor will then sometimes notify the property owner as well as the tenant and threaten the disrup- tion of mail service to the home.

We research the dog too! The dog that caused the injury may have a record, like a criminal usually has a criminal history. Our investigation of every dog bite injury case includes obtaining the dog’s veterinarian history and all records from the local board of animal control. There may have been reports of prior dog bites on the dog in question. From those records we can discover the history and see all reports, including names and addresses of all prior victims, which can allow us to interview those prior victims. Sometimes, the prior victims had notified the landowner, which can add to the prior knowledge hurdle. Lastly, we review the lease agreement between the landlord and the tenant because sometimes those lease agreements allow annual inspections, and sometimes they state they allow dogs. If so, any dog agreement or pet agreement is thoroughly reviewed. Perhaps, the landowner or its agent had a prior inspection and an encounter with a vicious dog and then notified the landlord.

Further, residential home leases provide a provision regarding dogs that may help to prove prior notice. We will obtain the above outlined evidence before the defense has the opportunity to hide it during discovery. This proactive research will benefit you if you are bitten by a dog and we have to prove a case of landowner liability!


Mark Blane
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San Diego Personal Injury Lawyer | California Car Accident Attorney