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Liability for dog bites: What does California’s law say?

California law imposes liability on dog owners whose dogs harm others in certain settings.

The law governing dog bites in the state is known as a form of “strict liability.” In this post, we will discuss what that means.

Start with the statute

Under Section 3342 of the California Civil Code, dog owners are liable for damages caused to a person who is bitten by their dog in a public place or “in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog,” when the person has a lawful reason to be there.

In some states, dog owners are only responsible for damage caused by their animals if there was reason to believe the dog was dangerous. This is sometimes referred to as a “one-bite” rule.

California does not have such a rule. Instead, dog owners are responsible for their pet’s actions in most cases. The injured party must satisfy two criteria:

  • First, they must have been bitten by the animal.
  • Second, the attack must have occurred in a public place or on private property where the injury victim had permission to be. In other words, a person who is trespassing on someone else’s property and is bitten by their dog would not be able to bring legal action. But a postal worker who has a lawful reason to be there, or a guest who was invited to the property, would be able to do so.

The role of negligence

While strict liability does not require the injured party to show that the dog owner was negligent, negligence does play a role in other types of animal-related injuries. For example, suppose a bicyclist is pursued by a dog and subsequently involved in an accident. In this case, the bicyclist would need to show that the dog owner did not exercise proper care to keep the animal from attacking. A correlation must also be made between the attack and the victim’s injuries.