If you or someone you know was attacked by a dog, whether it’s a pit bull, a german shepherd or a chihuahua, it is critical that you speak to an experienced dog bite lawyer. California’s dog bite laws are complex, and dog owners and insurance companies vigorously defend these cases in Court. Fortunately, our dog bite lawyers are experienced and can take your case to trial if the defense does not want to pay fair value for your injury.
To help you understand dog bite lawsuits, in this article our dog bite lawyers explain the ins and outs of California’s dog bite laws, and some of the important issues that come up in these cases.
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, also known as 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.
While California’s common law dog bite rule makes a dog owner “strictly liable” for injuries that a plaintiff suffers from a dog bite, these cases are difficult to prove in Court and often require expert testimony. This is because of the requirement that a plaintiff show that the dog had dangerous propensities prior to the bite. Fortunately, our dog bite lawyers have experience proving dangerous propensity cases in Court and can take your case to trial if need be.
Strict Liability Under the “Dog Bite Statute”
There is another way to establish strict liability in a California dog bite case, which is California’s “Dog Bite Statute.” To establish a claim under California’s dog bite statute, 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.
(California Civil Code section 3342; see also California Civil Jury Instructions (“CACI”) No. 463.)
As you can see, for the dog bite statute to apply a Plaintiff simply 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 our dog bite lawyers here 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 dog bite case and whether and how we may be able to help you.
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