State-Specific Dog Bite Laws and How They Affect Victims

Despite the label of “man’s best friend,” there are 4.7 million reported incidents of dog bites in the U.S. each year. Injuries can range from minor bruises to major, catastrophic damage.

If you or a loved one has been bitten by a dog, you may be able to receive compensation. However, dog bite laws vary by state, which can make it challenging to determine whether a victim can hold the owner of the dog liable for their injuries.

This article outlines state-specific dog bite laws. For further information about a dog bite case in California, please get in touch with our office at (714) 617-7870.

Strict Liability Laws

Though the law might seem harsh for dog owners, California is a strict liability state regarding dog bites. This means that a dog owner can be held legally and financially responsible any time their dog bites someone, even if the dog had no aggressive tendencies and the owner had no reason to believe that dog was dangerous.

It’s important to note that even if a dog owner took reasonable precautions to avoid the dog biting someone, a dog bite victim could still receive compensation under the strict liability standard.

There are some exceptions that could potentially bar financial recovery if the victim did any of the following:

  • Trespassing on the owner’s property
  • Harassing or provoking the dog
  • Sustaining an injury from an employer’s dog while on the job
  • Performing a paid service at the time of the injury

In general, however, if someone is in a public place or is legally allowed to be somewhere, a dog owner will be liable if the dog attacks.

One Bite Laws

Some states have “one bite” laws that allow a dog owner to avoid liability if they reasonably believe their dog was not prone to attacking people or domestic animals.

The term “one bite” may be misleading, however. This law does not mean that a dog must have bitten someone in the past before the owner can be held liable. Instead, the law only requires that the owner knew or had reason to know that an attack was foreseeable.

For example, a dog owner who has a “Beware of Dog” sign could be found to possess knowledge that their dog had a propensity for aggression.

One bite laws can create an additional burden of proof for a dog bite victim. Because California does not have a one bite law, however, victims do not need to prove a history of aggression with the animal.

California’s Unique Dog Bite Laws

According to Cal. Civ. Code § 3342, dog owners are liable for any injury caused by their dog as long as the victim is in a public place or lawfully private area. This includes the dog owner’s property if the victim had permission to be there at the time of the attack.

Examples of having permission to be on someone’s property include but are not limited to social visits, mail delivery, property maintenance, and performance of household repairs. Permission can be express, meaning that the property owner verbally gave permission, or implied, which allows for more subtle communications of consent.

There are some exceptions to this rule that can affect a dog bite victim’s case, including:

  • Use of a military or police dog who bites while performing a duty or who defends against provocation or an attack
  • A dog used by a governmental agency in apprehending a suspect
  • A police dog investigating a crime
  • A police dog executing a warrant
  • A police dog defending an officer or another person

How a Dog Owner’s Negligence Can Affect a California Dog Bite Case

Because California has a strict liability standard with dog bite rules, it’s often unnecessary to show that a dog owner was negligent. However, if the dog bite victim was trespassing on the property or provoked an attack, a victim can still potentially receive compensation if they can show that the dog owner was negligent.

Examples of negligence include:

  • The dog knocks someone over, and the fall results in an injury
  • The dog runs into the street and causes a car accident
  • The dog chases someone on a bicycle or skateboard, causing a fall
  • A dog owner allows a dog to roam off-leash
  • A dog owner fails to restrain a dog (either with a leash, fence, or other means)

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.

Generally speaking, California does not impose strict liability on the dog owner if the victim was bitten or attacked during the commission of a crime (including trespassing). However, even in these circumstances, a negligence theory may apply that allows the victim to receive compensation.

Compensation Available to California Dog Bite Victims

When a dog bite occurs in Newport Beach or anywhere in California, the victim can seek financial compensation for the injury. Whether the victim will succeed in a claim and how much compensation is available is highly fact-specific.

A dog bite attorney in California will explore compensation for the following losses:

  • Medical bills
  • Ongoing medical treatment
  • Lost wages
  • Future lost earning potential
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress

By keeping careful records of your medical expenses, state of mind, and changes to your lifestyle in the aftermath of a dog bite, you can improve your chances of a fair settlement.

Contact an Experienced Newport Beach Dog Bite Attorney

Dog bite cases can get complicated, especially if the dog owner is a close friend or relative. In these situations, an insurance claim is often the first course of action to pursue compensation for your injuries. At the Khalil Law Group, we understand that you are going through a difficult time as you recover from your injuries and emotional trauma. We encourage you to contact us for a free and confidential case evaluation at (714) 617-7870.

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