Understanding Dog Bite Laws and Strict Liability

Many people think of their dogs as loving, friendly, and playful. But what happens when a dog suddenly attacks and bites someone?

Dogs can bite for any reason, even if they’ve never attacked someone. According to California law, if a dog bites you, the owner may be liable for your medical bills. Learn more about dog bite laws and strict liability in our state below.

Can You Sue for a Dog Bite in California?

Dog bites can leave you with chronic pain, scarring, and even disabilities. If someone’s dog bites you, you may want to know whether you have a case against them for not controlling their animal.

It’s possible to seek compensation for dog bites in most cases. However, you’re unlikely to recover damages from the owner if you’re a dog trainer, groomer, veterinarian, or other person who commonly works with these animals.

In this case, it may still be possible to recover compensation if:

  • The owner signed a contract holding them responsible for dog bites
  • The dog owner employed you
  • The owner knew the dog had bitten before but didn’t tell you

California’s Strict Liability Laws

California is a strict liability state, which means bite victims don’t need to prove that the dog owner acted negligently to recover compensation.

You can sue for damages even if the dog has never acted aggressively or bit someone. You can also sue regardless of whether the owner took precautions to prevent dog bites.

Dog bite laws and strict liability are a complex topic, though, so contact a dog bite attorney if you’d like to know more.

Dog Bite Classifications

Dog classifications can affect the amount of compensation a court awards you. California classifies dogs as:

  • Potentially dangerous if the dog has bitten someone even once and caused injuries. The law also classifies domestic animals as potentially dangerous if they have attacked a person or animal twice within a three-year period.
  • Vicious if they have seriously injured or killed another person or animal just one time. This classification also applies if the dog attacked a person or animal more than twice in the previous three years.

Dog Bite Liability Defenses

Despite California dog bite laws and strict liability, dog owners can use several defenses to claim they weren’t responsible for the attack. If any of the following apply to your situation, you may need to seek compensation through other legal avenues.


If the dog bite victim trespassed on the owner’s private property, California’s strict liability laws do not apply. In this case, the victim must seek damages under negligence or common law.

The court doesn’t consider invited guests, emergency workers, mail carriers, and certain other people as trespassers, though. Property owners cannot say someone was trespassing simply because they rang their doorbell or walked up their driveway.


The law does not hold dog owners responsible for bites if the victim was harassing the dog before the attack. Harassment includes annoying the animal, hitting it, or throwing objects at it. The victim knew their actions could have consequences yet chose to harass the animal anyway.

No Proof of Ownership

It’s easy to assume any dog on someone’s property must belong to the person who lives there. But stray dogs can wander into a person’s yard without warning. Many stray dogs are aggressive and dangerous, especially if a rabid animal has bitten them.

If the dog doesn’t belong to the property owner, victims do not have a case against them.

A Dog Attack Without a Bite

Dog attacks can cause serious injury even if the animal doesn’t bite someone. Strict liability only applies to bite injuries. If the dog hurts someone by jumping on or scratching them, the victim may be able to seek compensation under negligence laws instead.

Negligence in Dog Bite Cases

Even if you think you don’t have a case against a dog owner, a lawyer may be able to help you seek damages if they can prove the owner acted negligently.

Common-law Liability

Common-law liability may apply if the dog has acted viciously before and the owner knew about it. A dog bite lawyer might talk to local animal control authorities or the owner’s veterinarian to prove the dog had attacked someone before.


If the owner acted negligently while handling their dog, it’s possible to hold them responsible for injuries their animal caused. This applies even if the dog has never attacked anyone before.

For instance, if the owner did not keep their dog leashed in a public area, the law can hold them liable if the animal attacks somebody.

Negligence Per Se

This ties into the negligence law described above. Using the previous example, if the owner violated the law by allowing their dog off-leash and can’t justify their violation of the law, the court can hold them responsible for their dog’s actions.

Civil and Criminal Liability in Dog Bite Cases

Are dog bite cases a civil or criminal matter? Depending on the nature of your injuries, such cases can be both.

The court may charge the owner with a misdemeanor if their dog causes minor injuries. If the dog maims or kills someone, the court might upgrade their charge to a felony. This is more likely if the dog attacked someone before and the owner knew it was potentially dangerous or vicious.

If you intend to seek compensation in a civil case, keep in mind that California has a two-year deadline for personal injury lawsuits. That means you must file suit within two years of the date of the attack.

Contact Khalil Law Group if You’ve Been Bitten by a Dog

If you’ve been injured by a dog bite, it’s important to contact a competent dog bite lawyer as soon as you can. At Khalil Law Group, our team can help you understand dog bite laws and strict liability as they apply to your case. We’ll work hard to recover compensation for your medical bills and mental distress.

Call Khalil Law Group at (714) 617-7870 for a free consultation today.

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