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What Makes a Dog “Dangerous” or “Vicious?”

Posted on February 24, 2023 in Dog Bites

California has a ranking system for dogs that cause trouble, such as injuring or killing domestic animals or biting humans. If a dog is deemed “dangerous” or “vicious” by animal control, the owner must take certain steps to protect the public from the pet. If a dangerous or vicious dog bites another victim, animal control may intervene.

considerations for a dangerous dog in california

California’s Dangerous Dog Regulations

California’s dangerous dog provisions are found in California Food & Agriculture Code, Division 14, Chapter 9. This law gives the following definitions for how animal control will classify a problematic dog:

  • Potentially dangerous dog: a dog which engages in any behavior that requires a defensive action by a person to prevent bodily injury twice within 36 months, unprovoked and not on the dog owner or keeper’s property; a dog that bites a person unprovoked and causes a minor injury; a dog that kills, seriously bites or injures a domestic animal off the owner’s property on two separate occasions within 36 months.
  • Vicious dog: a dog which, unprovoked and in an aggressive manner, inflicts severe injury on or kills a human being or a dog that was previously deemed a potentially dangerous dog that continues the behaviors listed under the definition thereof. A “severe injury” is defined as a physical injury to a human that requires multiple sutures, corrective or cosmetic surgery, or causes muscle tears or disfiguring lacerations.

If a victim was willfully trespassing, committing another tort on the dog owner’s premises, tormenting or abusing the dog, or attempting to commit a crime, no dog may be declared potentially dangerous or vicious if it attacks or injures the individual.

What Happens if a Dog Is Determined to Be Dangerous or Vicious?

If animal control believes that a dog poses an immediate threat to public safety, they may seize and impound the dog pending a hearing. Then, a hearing will take place to determine if probable cause exists to believe that a dog is potentially dangerous or vicious. This is a limited civil case that will be held promptly, within no more than 10 working days after the owner of the dog is served with a notice of the hearing.

If the hearing results in a classification of a potentially dangerous dog, the animal must be kept indoors or in a securely fenced yard from which the dog cannot escape at all times. The fence must also be built in a manner in which children cannot trespass onto the property. A potentially dangerous dog can only leave the owner’s property if it is restrained by a substantial leash of a reasonable length and if it is under the control of a responsible adult.

If a dog is classified as vicious, the court with jurisdiction over the case has the right to impose conditions upon the ownership of the dog that protect the public. A vicious dog may be destroyed if animal control finds after trial proceedings that releasing the dog would pose a significant threat to public health, safety and welfare.

California’s Dog Bite Law

Under California Civil Code Section 3342, the owner of a dog that bites or injures someone who is in a public place or lawfully on private property is liable for the damages suffered by the victim. This is a strict liability dog bite statute, meaning the owner or keeper of the dog can be held financially responsible for the incident even if he or she was not negligent.

If you or a loved one has been attacked by a dog in Los Angeles, contact a dog bite attorney for assistance. An attorney can investigate the matter and guide you through a subsequent hearing. If the dog had previously been declared potentially dangerous or vicious, this can strengthen your dog bite injury claim. Consult with an attorney for more information about this type of personal injury lawsuit.