The Role of Animal Control and Local Authorities in Addressing Dog Bite Cases

Nearly one-third of Californians have dogs, and they don’t call them “man’s best friend” for nothing. While dogs are considered a part of the family for many households, they are still descendants of wild animals and can engage in unpredictable, dangerous, and destructive behavior.

When a dog bites someone, there are legal and financial consequences. Animal control officers and local authorities protect the public by enforcing laws in Orange County neighborhoods, including being the first point of contact to report a dog bite.

This article outlines dog owner liability and the role of animal control and local authorities in dog bite cases.  

Dog Owners Are Strictly Liable for Dog Bites

Did you know that dog owners are responsible for the actions of their dogs even when there is no history of aggression, and the owner had no reason to believe the dog would ever bite anyone?

Under California’s strict liability laws, a dog owner must pay for any associated damages, despite taking reasonable precautions to avoid an attack. By definition, strict liability means that the owner is liable for the consequences of a dog bite, even if they were not technically responsible for what happened.

Requirements for Strict Liability to Apply

Because strict liability is such an unforgiving standard, several requirements must be met before a dog owner will be liable under this legal theory.

  1. There must have been a dog bite. An injury from a dog knocking someone over is not a dog bite, but it is a “bite” if the fall occurred due to being bitten. For example, if a dog bites someone’s pant leg and the person falls, this counts as a dog bite.  
  2. The person bitten must have been in either a public place or legally allowed on private property. Legally allowed people include those delivering mail or making a repair on your property as a result of your request. Trespassers may not be protected under strict liability or negligence laws, depending on the circumstances.
  1. Owners and handlers of police and military dogs are not subject to strict not applicable if the bite occurred during their course of duty, or they were acting to defend themselves.

Dog Owners May Also Be Liable Under for Negligence

Even if a dog bite incident does not meet the threshold of strict liability, a dog owner can still be found liable for negligence in civil court if a dog does the following actions:

  • Knocks someone over
  • Causes a car accident
  • Causes someone to fall off of a bicycle or skateboard

Here, the victim must prove that the dog owner was negligent, usually due to a lack of supervision or proper restraint, such as being on a leash or fenced-in on a property. A plaintiff could also demonstrate that the dog was not trained, or the owner did not have control of the animal.

The Role of Law Enforcement in Dog Bite Cases

When a dog is perceived as a threat to public safety, there can be a hearing to determine if the threat is legitimate and what actions should be taken, including:

  • The dog owner must keep the animal indoors
  • The dog must be restrained by a fenced-in area
  • Requiring strict adherence to leash laws

The petition can be filed by an animal control officer, and a dog owner who violates a restriction imposed by the hearing is subject to fines.

The threshold for dangerous behavior requires proving past aggression, such as previously biting someone, killing or injuring another animal, or confrontations that have led to a person having to defend themselves.

It’s recommended to avoid taking matters into your own hands. In California, animal cruelty laws make it a crime to injure or kill an animal without adequate justification. The threshold requires that one reasonably believes that harming the dog is necessary to prevent an immediate threat. This threshold is relatively high.

For example, someone might be extremely fearful when a dog is growling at them threateningly, but that does not justify harming the animal.

California animal control laws do allow an exception for animals that are already known to be “dangerous to life, limb, or property,” but the person who has been charged with animal cruelty has the burden of proving these circumstances.

Law Enforcement Actions

Due to the number of dogs in California and Orange County specifically, several local groups have organized to keep neighborhoods safe from dangerous dogs that have demonstrated aggressive or predatory behavior.

When alerted to a potentially dangerous dog, law enforcement and local officials step in and help in these ways:

  • Investigate reports of vicious animals
  • Investigate dog bite incidents
  • Verify that an animal is licensed and vaccinated for rabies
  • Work with other law enforcement departments to implement community animal safety measures
  • Petition for an animal to be officially declared dangerous


Criminal Consequences for Dog Bites

In addition to facing civil liability for dog bites, a dog owner may also be subject to criminal sanctions. If the dog bite resulted in a fatality, the dog owner could be charged with a felony, which could lead to jail time. However, an injury will likely result in a misdemeanor charge only.

Keep in mind that a dog owner can be subject to both criminal and civil liability. For example, if you press criminal charges against a dog owner for an attack, you can still seek financial compensation in civil court for any injuries.

Compensation for Dog Bite Injuries

Because a dog owner is liable for the actions of their pet, they may have liability insurance that will protect them from paying out-of-pocket for a dog bite case. This means that a dog bite victim may be compensated by an insurance company rather than out of the dog owner’s personal finances.

Compensation for dog bite injuries may include reimbursement for lost wages, medical bills, pain and suffering, and more. A dog bite attorney can evaluate your case and discuss the next steps.

Contact an Experienced Orange County Dog Bite Attorney

If a dog has bitten you or a loved one, please contact the Khalil Law Group at (714) 617-7870 to discuss your case. There is no such thing as a case that is too small or too big. We are here to advocate for you and fight for what you deserve.

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