In California, people who own dogs can be held strictly liable for the harm from a dog bite, no matter how carefully they restrain or guard their dogs. California Civil Code Section 3342 is the dog bite statute, which outlines when dog owners can be held responsible for injuries caused by their dog.
Elements the Plaintiff Must Prove to Establish a Dog Bite Claim
According to CACI 463, in case the plaintiff claims that the defendant’s dog bit him and that the defendant is responsible for the harm, he must be able to prove all of the following elements to establish the claim:
- Defendant owned a dog
- The dog bit the plaintiff while he was in a public place or lawfully on private property
- Plaintiff was harmed
- Defendant’s dog was a substantial factor in causing harm to the plaintiff
Strict Liability in California
Under strict liability legal concept, an individual is liable for his conduct, even if he was not acting negligently. Generally, to prove the claim the victims are required to show that the defendant’s conduct was negligent. However, under strict liability, the victims do not have to prove the defendant’s negligence. According to the statue, the dog owner will likely be liable for damages:
- Whether or not the owner undertook all possible actions to prevent the accident
- Whether or not the dog had previously bitten anyone
- Whether or not the owner had any reason to believe that the dog could act aggressively and be dangerous for people
California’s statute imposes strict liability only on the dog’s owner. However, under the statute, other persons, such as a keeper or handler, can also be deemed an “owner.” They can also be responsible for a victim’s injuries, but not under the strict liability statute. To be found guilty, a handler or a keeper must have prior knowledge of the dog’s aggressive acts, such as a prior bite.
When a person enters a property of another one he has a reasonable expectation that he won’t be injured or hurt. This is called a “standard of care.” A property owner of the property or the occupier owes a certain standard of care to any person on his property. Thus, it is the owner’s obligation to maintain a safe environment for all individuals entering his premises and this includes keeping potentially dangerous animals away from people or being sure to put up warning signs.
Exceptions to California Dog Bite Statute
Some exceptions to California Civil Code Section 3342 include:
- The dog was a law enforcement animal, and was carrying out police and military work.
- The victim was a trespasser and was unlawfully on another person’s private property. To be lawfully on the private property of the owner” means that the person was performing any duty required by law or was on the property at the invitation of the owner.
- The victim was partially at fault for his injuries. He can be partially at fault for a dog bite in case he annoyed, harassed, provoked or hurt the dog that bit him.
- The victim could assume the risk of being bitten. Veterinarians and kennel workers who have assumed the risk of a dog bite are not eligible to recover compensation under California Civil Code Section 3342. However, they can still claim that the dog owner must be liable because of his negligence; they just cannot rely on strict liability.
Statute of Limitations for Dog Bites in California
The victim has two years after the bite happens to file the case in court to preserve his rights.
Are You a Victim of a Dog Bite in California?