Many people do not understand how damaging and traumatizing a dog bite can be. But they likely have never suffered a dog bite, witnessed one, or have owned a dog that attacked somebody. There is no mistaking the long-term effects.
Each state chooses its laws on dealing with dog bites, although most fit one of only a few types of laws. California is what is known as a “strict liability” state, but a dog bite might result in a few legal actions that stray from simple strict liability.
California owners are usually responsible for a dog bite
An owner whose dog bites someone may be liable for injuries the animal causes. It does not matter if the owner tried to stop the attack, did not know the dog was capable of biting anyone or even if the victim shared some fault in the incident. It sounds strict, but after all, the legal standard is known as “strict liability.”
Strict liability applies in more situations than many people realize. Speeding is speeding, for example. And manufacturers selling dangerous products generally cannot plead ignorance.
Nonetheless, there are some exceptions even to California’s strict liability. The owner may not be liable if:
- The victim was illegally trespassing.
- The dog was a police or military dog doing its job.
- The “victim” was attacking or harassing the dog.
These exceptions are narrow, but each has applied in some cases and owners have used them as a defense, sometimes reasonably and sometimes not.
Other legal consequences the dog owner may face
Strict liability is an issue in civil court, where an injured citizen sues the dog owner for compensation. Another California civil statute allows lawsuits against an owner who fails to take reasonable precautions to keep the dog from injuring people.
You do not have to be a dog-bite victim to file suit. The statute says if the dog bites people on two or more different occasions, “any person, the district attorney, or city attorney” can file suit. As a result, a judge will hear the evidence and decide what, if anything, the owner must do to make the situation safe, possibly including having the dog destroyed.
Also, anyone can file a suit if the dog was “trained to fight, attack, or kill” and had bitten even one person “causing substantial physical injury.” Again, a judge would decide whether the dog must somehow be prevented from doing more harm.
California also allows animal control or law enforcement to ask a judge to declare a dog “dangerous” and make the owner keep the dog under strict conditions.