Whether you are a dog owner or someone with a dog bite injury claim, understanding California law is essential for assessing liability in a dog bite case. Consulting with lawyers who are knowledgeable about California’s dog bite liability and statutes can make or break the ruling in your case, and help to make a difficult situation easier for everyone involved.

California’s Dog Bite Statutes

Under California law, dog owners are held strictly liable for injuries resulting from a bite, meaning that the law does not allow a dog owner to dispute who was at fault.

California Civil Code Section 3342 addresses injuries caused by dog bites. Section 3342 states that a dog’s owner can be held liable for damages if injury to another person is caused by a dog bite. The victim must also lawfully be in a public or private place when the bite occurred.

Section 3342 includes exceptions—if a dog bites someone while performing police or military work, an injured person may not usually sue for damages. The owner of the dog may also be released from liability if the injured person was trespassing on private property.

Strict Liability vs. Negligence

California’s dog bite statute is a strict liability statute. It states that a dog’s owner can be held liable for injuries “regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness.”² To argue that the owner had no idea the dog would act aggressively is not a defense. Whether or not the dog’s owner took reasonable care to prevent the dog from injuring others is also irrelevant.

California Civil Code section 3342.5 applies to instances where a dog has bitten someone in the past. The dog’s owner is put on notice to try to prevent future attacks. When a dog that has been trained to fight, attack or kill has bitten a human being, causing substantial physical injury, any person, including the district attorney or city attorney may bring an action against the owner of the animal¹.

A person who has suffered injuries caused by behaviors such as jumping or scratching may be able to bring a negligence claim against the dog’s owner, but Section 3342 does not apply. In these kinds of cases, the injured person must show that the dog’s owner did not use reasonable care and that the failure to use reasonable care such as keeping the dog in a fenced-in yard or on a leash, caused the injury.

Many people consider their dogs part of the family, but even the ones we love can misbehave once in a while. If your dog has bitten someone, or you are the victim of a dog bite, seeking the assistance of lawyers who are well-versed in California law can help bring the situation to a timely resolution and get you the compensation you deserve.