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California’s Strict Liability Laws for Dog Bites

Dogs may be our loving, furry life companions, but they are also animals with an animal’s instincts, inclinations, and motives we don’t always understand. A dog’s actions aren’t always predictable, even when a dog has never bitten before. California has a strict liability law for dog owners. The state holds a pet’s owner accountable for their dog’s actions from the moment they take ownership or responsibility for the dog. If a dog bites a person in a public place or while the individual is lawfully on the owner’s property, the owner is liable for any damages like medical expenses, and lost income. Typically, the compensation for the damages comes from the pet owner’s property liability insurance regardless of whether or not the bite occurred on the owner’s property.

Strict Liability Vs. the “One-Bite Rule”

A small handful of states in the U.S. have a “one-bite” rule that requires dog bite victims to prove the dog’s owner was negligent because the dog has bitten at least once before. If a dog has a known history of biting or aggression, the owner knows the dog has the proclivity to bite and must take all reasonable precautions to prevent it from causing injury to others. Essentially, a one-bite rule protects the pet owner from liability the first time a dog bites under the assertion that the owner couldn’t have known the dog might bite.

California’s strict owner liability law does not allow a dog one “free” bite but holds the owner accountable for the dog’s actions even if the dog has never bitten or acted aggressively before.

How Does a Dog Bite Claim Work in a Strict Liability State?

If a dog causes an injury, whether it’s one or more bites, an injury from knocking someone to the ground, or an injury that occurs while a victim runs away from a chasing dog, they can file a dog bite injury claim for their damages.

Dog bites that pierce or puncture the skin are prone to infection. A serious dog attack may result in multiple punctures, tearing of the skin and muscle, and in some cases, serious disfigurement or the loss of fingers, toes, hands, feet, or limbs. Dog attacks sometimes result in a victim’s death.

An injury claim after a dog bite holds the pet owner accountable through a personal injury claim against their property insurance. A successful claim results in compensation for damage like:

  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Lost income and future income loss
  • Pain and suffering
  • Disfigurement
  • Traumatic limb loss
  • Emotional damages
  • Property damage to clothing and personal items
  • Wrongful death damages

California’s strict owner liability laws commonly result in a settlement from the pet owner’s insurance company but may require a lawsuit if the insurer disputes the claim or offers only an unfairly low settlement.

What Happens to the Dog Under California’s Strict Liability Laws for Dog Bites?

All dog bites should be reported to animal control. The state may euthanize a dog if it causes catastrophic injuries or death, or if the dog has a history of biting multiple times, making it a known danger. If the dog has rabies, the state automatically euthanizes it.

Not all dog bites result in a dog’s euthanization. If a dog has never previously bitten or had a history of aggression, the owner will be told to take precautions to protect others from their dog.

In limited circumstances, a dog owner may not be liable for damages to a victim, for instance, if the dog was a police dog, if the bite victim was bitten while committing a crime, or if the dog bit a trespasser on private property with warning signs.