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Dog Bites


The answer to the question presented is that “it depends”.  Mainly, the answer depends on the dog bite laws in the state where you were bitten.  In nineteenth century America, the general rule was that a dog owner would be held liable for dog bites that the dog owner had reason to believe may occur.  In other words, the dog was often allowed one bite before the owner would have reason to believe that their dog would bite someone, and before they would be liable to another for the bite which was caused by their dog. In order to prevail under such a law, the victim would usually need to show that the dog owner did something wrong.

Today, some states still have the “one good bite” standard.  However, the vast majority of states have adopted a much different perspective.  California law follows the majority position in that dog owners are strictly liable for the injuries caused by their dogs.  A strict liability dog bite statute, such as California’s, allows for recovery by an injured party even if the dog’s owner took every possible step to prevent the dog from biting the person, and even if it was the first time the dog bit someone.  In order to prevail on such a claim, an injured person needs to prove that: (1) they did not provoke the animal to bite; and (2) that the bite occurred in a public place, or that the victim had a lawful right to be in the private place where the bite occurred. See California Civil Code § 3342. 

It is important to note that some exceptions to the rule stated do exist.  First, recovery will not be allowed by injured people that were bitten by police or military dogs that were defending someone or assisting a law enforcement officer with their duties.  This exception to recovery only applies if the injured party was suspected of participating in a crime.  Innocent bystanders who were not suspected in being involved in a crime could still sue a city if they were bitten by a police dog.  Second, the courts in California have held that dog owners are generally shielded from liability if their dog bit a veterinarian or a veterinarian assistant during the course of the treatment which was being provided.

Sometimes, an injury will occur even though a dog does not bite someone.  In such instances, CA Civ. Code § 3342 does not apply.  That is, there is no strict liability imposed on the dog owner for the injuries which occur if the dog does not bite anyone.  For example, if a dog runs up to someone and jumps on them in a playful manner, but the person falls down and injures themselves, then the owner is not strictly liable for the resulting injuries.  Instead, the injured party must prove that the dog owner was negligent for allowing their dog to jump on the person.

For more information regarding prevailing on a claim of negligence, please see the article entitled “Who is Negligent?” which can be found here. 

In summary, dog bite injuries can be devastating to those involved.  They can result in permanent scarring or disfigurement, and can also take a serious emotional toll on you and your loved ones.  If you were injured by someone’s dog, please do not hesitate to contact our office as soon as possible.  We can assist you with achieving the best results possible.  Call us today!