Dogs are wonderful companions, guardians and are often treated as loved members of a family. However, dogs are still animals and have powerful biting capabilities which must be treated with respect and caution.
Dog bites and attacks may result in significant bodily harm, disfigurement, and emotional suffering for the victims. A dog owner is required to understand that their dog may bit, or otherwise harm a person, and has an obligation to always secure their animal. However, far too frequently, these dog owners do not maintain their dogs in a controlled manner, resulting in devastating consequences.
One-Bite Rule… What is it?
Often misunderstood, the “one bite rule” for dog bites is commonly understood as a legal precedent that the dog owner must have previous knowledge that their dog had bitten a person previously. That unless the dog owner knew their dog would bite someone, they now know their dog is dangerous and can be held liable for subsequent bites – absolving the dog owner from the first bite.
The theory behind the one-bite rule is to provide the dog owner some protection, and, for the dog owner to take necessary precautions once the dog has bitten a person.
In California, the “one bite rule” is not law and the dog owner is liable for every instance when a dog bites a person. Further, the State of California’s Strict liability rules in 1932 (California Civil Code 3342) for dog bites holds the owner liable, even if they took every precaution necessary. Dog owners are not absolved of their responsibility even if the dog broke free from a leash, fenced area, or other restraint.
In summary: in California, if a dog bites a person, the dog owner is liable.
Fighting Liability in Dog Bite Cases
In California, the dog’s owner will be held liable for any damages to a victim if their dog bites somebody, regardless of whether or not the dog has bitten anybody before.
In these cases, the dog owner will typically be held liable for the victim’s medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering damages, and more. So long as the injury victim was in a public location or lawfully at a private place when the bite occurred, they will typically be entitled to compensation from the dog’s owner and their insurance company (usually homeowner insurance).
Dog owners may employ a variety of strategies to defend themselves against dog bite claims, including:
- No proof of ownership. Dog owners may state they did not own the dog, that it was a stray dog that was on their property. Proving ownership may require additional proof such as veterinary records, registration, or photograph to establish ownership.
- Claim the victim was trespassing. As a victim, you must have been lawfully in the place at the time of the attack. If you were on private property without permission, then your protection is likely not covered under the law.
- Claim the dog was harassed or provoked. If a dog is being taunted, attacked, beaten or otherwise provoked by the victim, then the dog owner may not be liable.
- Victim was not actually bitten. Dog bite laws in California apply to dog bites only. Scratches, impact hits, trauma, or other injuries are not treated the same as dog bites. In California, if the dog’s tooth does not penetrate the skin, then it is not treated as a dog bite and may be covered under separate laws.
It is important to know that those who work directly with dogs—such as workers at a veterinary, pet sitters, dog trainers, and groomers—typically are unable to receive compensation for injuries caused by dog bites as the risk of a dog bite is inherent in their occupations and they should take necessary precaution and training to avoid being bitten.
However, there are situations in which they may be eligible for compensation:
- The victim was bitten before or after working with the dog, not while working.
- The victim was employed by the dog owner.
- The dog owner had knowledge of the dog biting before but did not disclose that information to the person handling the dog.
Choosing an Experienced Dog Bite Attorney in California
Coming to a successful closure on a dog bite case in California can be an uphill battle. Unfortunately, there is no specific precedent that an attorney can use to show that a dog’s owner had enough prior knowledge in advance of a dog bite or attack to hold the owner liable for injuries caused. Typically, these types of cases are handled as they occur and largely left to a jury to decide the outcome.
In dog bite cases, most people will need the help of an experienced dog bite attorney to recover full damages caused by the attack. It is important to work with an attorney who can:
- Prove their experience in working with dog bite cases
- Identify all items for which you are entitled to receive compensation
- Aggressively and confidently present your demand and seek a timely resolution
- Be prepared to go to court if your demands are not met
Free California Dog Bite Attorney Consultations
Dog bite claims are often complex. If you or a loved one has been bitten or attacked by a dog in California, Harsh Law offers a no-obligation, complimentary consultation to answer your questions with an experienced legal professional.