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Dog Bites

Dog bites continue to be a common occurrence in San Diego and throughout California. Untrained, un-socialized dogs that have not been neutered or spayed can be dangerous to people. Dog owners need to be aware of their responsibilities for training, socializing, and controlling their dogs. Suffering a dog bite or animal attack can be very traumatic and result in the need for both psychological and medical attention. Whether the bite is the result of negligence or not, a dog bite victim is entitled to compensation for pain and suffering, scarring, and medical bills.

Under California law, the owner of any dog is strictly liable for the damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the dog owner’s property, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness.

Liability of Parties

In certain limited situations, somebody other than an owner can also be held responsible. Some other parties that may be at risk of liability include:

  • Commercial property owners: If a dog bite occurs on commercial property, the property owner may be liable. Commercial property owners have a duty to inspect their premises to identify and correct dangerous conditions – including a vicious dog.
  • Landlords: If a landlord knew about a dog’s vicious propensities and had the right to remove the dog from the premises, failing to do so could incur liability if the dog later attacks and injures someone.
  • Residential property owners: When a bite occurs at a residential property, the owner may be liable if they had actual knowledge of a vicious dog on the premises or if the dog escaped the premises due to a defect such as a broken fence and bites someone.
  • A dog’s caretaker: If someone besides the dog’s owner was controlling the animal when a bite occurs, that person may be liable for damages that result. In this case, however, strict liability does not occur unless the caretaker had prior knowledge of the vicious nature of the dog.
Standard to Recover Damages

By not requiring an injured party to prove that the owner had knowledge their dog was vicious or had previously attacked someone, California law has eliminated the “one bite” rule that some other states continue to apply. To be able to recover, an injured party must establish that:

  • The defendant actually owned the dog that caused the injury;
  • The bite happened when the injured party was legally present on private property or was on public property at the time (the California statute deems people carrying out a legal duty on private property such as delivering mail to be lawfully present);
  • The victim sustained injury in the attack; and
  • The dog was the cause of the injury.

Under the theory of Strict Liability that is applied to dog bites, an injured party may not have to prove a dog owner was negligent in order to recover damages for their injuries.

Exceptions to Strict Liability for Dog Bite Injuries

Strict liability does not attach to every dog bite that occurs, as some situations have been deemed exceptions to the general rule. Common circumstances that are exceptions include:

  • Provoking the attack;
  • Trespassing on the owner’s property when the bite occurred;
  • Assuming the risk of a dog attack and any resulting injuries; or
  • When the dog was involved in military work or police work and defending itself, aiding an agency employee in investigating a crime, executing a warrant, defending a peace officer or civilian, or apprehending or detaining a suspect on the reasonable suspicion of the agency employee that the person was involved in criminal activity.

However, these are not carte blanche exemptions. Strict liability may still attach for military or police dogs if their bite victim was not the party that was actually suspected of or participating in the actions that prompted an agency employee to use the dog in their official capacity of work. The vast exceptions surrounding Dog Bite Law can be a complex area to navigate and are best done when aided by an attorney experienced in personal injury.

Additional Remedies

Anyone who is injured by a dog bite can file a civil lawsuit to try and recover compensation for their injuries. California also has a law holding owners responsible for taking “reasonable steps” to remove the danger of future attacks when their dogs have previously bitten someone. Anyone may bring a civil case in addition to their personal injury claim against a dog owner who has bitten a human in two separate incidents or the owner or a trained attack dog even after a single bite.

In these cases, courts may go a step further and order the owner to take measures to avoid any future attacks, including ordering the dog’s removal from the area or even having it euthanized. These proceedings may not be brought against working police or military dogs that bite or on a dog with a history of biting trespassers.

For a free and confidential consultation with an experienced San Diego dog bite lawyer, please call us directly at (866) 338-7079, or click here to submit your inquiry online.

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