Free consultation (800) 362-7427

Dog Bite Laws in California

Posted on November 8, 2021 in Dog Bites

Getting attacked by a dog in California is traumatizing in more ways than one. You may have severe physical injuries, permanent scarring and emotional trauma as a victim. In the aftermath of a dog bite injury, knowing your rights under state law can help you hold a pet owner responsible and collect compensation for your losses. Use this overview of California’s dog bite laws to learn more. For additional information about California’s dog bite injury laws, contact a dog bite lawyer in Los Angeles

When Is a Dog Owner Liable for Bite Injuries?

In personal injury law, a liable party is someone who is legally and financially responsible for an accident or injury. After a dog bite injury, who you can hold liable will depend on the laws in your state. Most states use either a strict liability or a one-bite rule to determine dog bite injury cases. California is a strict liability state, according to Civil Code Section 3342. This law states that the owner of a pet will be strictly liable – liable regardless of fault – for a dog attack that takes place while the victim is in a public place or lawfully on private property.

In other words, in California, a pet owner will be responsible for paying for the injuries, medical bills and other losses associated with a dog attack, whether or not the owner was negligent. If you live in a one-bite state, on the other hand, you would only be able to hold a pet owner liable if he or she had reason to know that the dog was vicious, such as if the dog had bitten someone before. If the pet owner did not use an appropriate amount of care in controlling the dog, you may also be able to base a dog bite injury case on negligence.

What Is the Definition of a Dangerous Dog?

If a dog has been classified as “potentially dangerous” or “vicious” by the state or local animal control authorities, the owner of the dog will have a greater responsibility to prevent attacks than the typical pet owner. The law may require the owner of a dangerous dog to use a muzzle or shorter leash when out in public, for example. 

In California, the definition of a potentially dangerous dog is one that attacked or attempted to attack someone (unprovoked) on two separate occasions within a three-year period, or a dog that has bitten someone or injured a domestic animal (California Food and Agricultural Code Section 31602). A vicious dog is one that inflicts severe injury on or kills a human, unprovoked, in an aggressive manner (Sec. 31603).

What Is the Deadline for Filing a Dog Bite Claim in California?

All personal injury lawsuits in California, including dog bite injury cases, come with deadlines called statutes of limitations. With only limited exceptions, if you miss your statute of limitations, the courts will refuse to hear your case, barring you from financial compensation. In general, the deadline to file a dog bite injury case is two years from the date of the injury in California. If you are filing a wrongful death case after a fatal dog attack, you will have two years from the date of your loved one’s death instead.

Dog Owner Defenses to Injury Claims

A pet owner may be able to defend against a dog bite injury claim to avoid being held liable for a victim’s injuries and medical costs. A common defense is that the victim was trespassing at the time of the attack, meaning the victim was on private property without permission. If this is true, the pet owner may not be liable for the dog bite injury (unless the victim was a minor under the age of 18). Another defense is that the victim harassed or provoked the dog into attacking. California’s strict liability law also will not apply if the dog was on duty at the time of the attack, working as a police or military canine.