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Dog Bites and Premises Liability in California

Dog Bites and Premises Liability in California

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:

  • The defendant owned a dog;
  • The dog bit the plaintiff while he was in a public place or lawfully on private property;
  • Plaintiff was harmed; and
  • Defendant’s dog was a substantial factor in causing harm to the plaintiff

Strict Liability in California

Under strict liability, 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.

Factors the court considers regarding dog bite include:

  • Whether or not the owner undertook all possible actions to prevent the accident;
  • Whether or not the dog had previously bitten anyone; and
  • Whether or not the owner had any reason to believe that the dog could act aggressively toward 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.

Premises Liability in California

When a person enters the property of another one he has a reasonable expectation that he won’t be injured or hurt. A property owner of the property or the occupier owes a due of care to third parties. Thus, it is the owner’s obligation to maintain a safe environment for all individuals entering his premises. This includes keeping potentially dangerous animals away from people or 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

In California, the statute of limitations for a dog bite is two years from the time of the incident.

Are You a Victim of a Dog Bite in California?

Are you a victim of a dog bite in California? Our experienced dog bite lawyers at KAASS Law may be able to provide you with the legal assistance that you need. We invite you to contact our office at (310) 943-1171 for a free consultation.

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