California’s Dog Bite Laws
We are often asked when we represent dog bite victims whether it is our goal to have the dog, that bit our client, put down. We most certainly do not want to have any dog, or animal, put down. And a civil case, which is what we file on behalf of our clients, does not have anything to do with whether a dog will get put down as a result of a dog bite incident. That is outside of the civil system.
We at Rogers | Beltran LLP love animals of all kind. At the same time, victims of dog bites often suffer serious, and even permanent, injuries. Many of these victims have to take time off work while they are treated for these injuries. Our goal is to help these dog bite victims obtain the assistance they need to pay for their past and future medical treatment, wage loss, and pain and suffering.
In California, the state imposes a strict liability against dog owners who own, or are in control of, a dog that bites someone in certain situations. Below we discuss this law and what your rights are.
What are California’s Strict Liability Dog Bite Laws?
California has two “strict liability” dog bite laws. The first arises from what is known as the English “common law.” The second is codified in California Civil Code section 3342, aka California’s “dog bite statute.” If you can prove each of the elements of either the common law dog bite law or California’s dog bite statute, then you can win your dog bite case and recover for your personal injuries.
California’s “Common Law” Dog Bite Law
California has long followed the common law rule of strict liability for harm done by domestic animals with known vicious or dangerous propensities. (Drake v. Dean (1993) 15 Cal.App.4th 915, 921.) The question of whether a domestic animal is vicious or dangerous is ordinarily one for the jury. (Heath v. Fruzia (1942) 50 Cal.App.2d 598, 601.) “The gist of the action is not the manner of keeping the vicious animal, but the keeping him at all with knowledge of the vicious propensities. In such instances the owner is an insurer against the acts of the animal, to one who is injured without fault, and the question of the owner’s negligence is not in the case.” (Hillman v. Garcia-Ruby (1955) 44 Cal.2d 625, 626.)
To establish a claim under California’s “common law” strict liability dog bite law, a plaintiff must prove all of the following:
- That the defendant owned, kept, or controlled a dog;
- That the dog had an unusually dangerous nature or tendency;
- That before the plaintiff was injured, the defendant knew or should have known that the dog had this nature or tendency;
- That the plaintiff was harmed, and
- That the dog’s unusually dangerous nature or tendency was a substantial factor in causing plaintiff’s harm.
(California Civil Jury Instructions (“CACI”), No. 462.)
While California’s common law dog bite rule makes a dog owner “strictly liable” for damages that a plaintiff sustains from a dob bite incident, the elements are not as easily met as the elements of California’s dog bite statute which is discussed below. This is because the common law rule requires a showing of dangerous propensity prior to the dog bite incident, and this evidence may not exist or may be difficult to come by. As will be discussed below, California’s dog bite statute does not require a showing of dangerous propensity and thus it may be easier to prove the statutory claim.
Strict Liability Under the “Dog Bite Statute”
To establish a claim under California’s “dog bite statute,” which is codified as California Civil Code section 3342, a plaintiff must prove all of the following:
- That the Defendant owned a dog;
- That the dog bit Plaintiff while he was in a public place or lawfully on private property;
- That Plaintiff was harmed; and
- That Defendant’s dog was a substantial factor in causing Plaintiff’s harm.
(CACI No. 463.)
As you can see, for the dog bite statute to apply a Plaintiff merely needs to show that the Defendant owned the dog, that the Plaintiff was not trespassing at the time of the dog bite, and that the dog bit the Plaintiff who was harmed.
If you were bit by someone’s dog and suffered physical injuries as a result, you should contact the team at Rogers | Beltran LLP to discuss your potential personal injury case. We offer a free 30-minute telephone or Zoom consultation with a licensed California attorney who will be more than happy to discuss the details of your personal case and whether and how we may be able to help you.
Thank you for visiting our website. Please note that this article is not intended to be legal advice. Rogers | Beltran LLP does not represent you until you have a signed retainer with the firm. The views expressed herein are for educational purposes only. The law constantly changes, and we make no representations or guarantees about the current or past validity of the legal analysis. If you have questions about the current state of the law in this area, feel free to reach out to our law firm for a free telephone or remote consultation (Zoom) or seek legal counsel from another reputable law firm.