Know Your Rights
As much as our culture embraces dogs and treats them like family members, the law views animals kept as pets differently. By law, a pet is considered property, which makes dog owners responsible for dog bite injuries sustained by a person in a public place or lawfully in a private place. Notice how we didn’t mention injuries sustained by another dog. If a dog bites another dog, the owner of the injured dog can sue for property damage since the dog is considered property. However, if a dog bites a human being, another set of laws comes into play.
In this article, we’ll discuss basic dog bite rules in the U.S. and which of them apply to dog bite laws in the state of California. Every state falls into one of three categories: one-bite law, mixed dog bite, and strict liability—the category to which California pet owners are subject. As a strict liability state, it’s essential to understand how these laws apply and the significance of consulting with a dog bite attorney if you or a loved one suffers injuries due to a dog bite.
Before we elaborate on what strict liability means, let’s discuss dog bite laws in general.
Dog Bite Laws in the U.S.
One of the first laws established in the U.S. pertaining to dog bites was the one-bite law, also known as one free bite. One-bite states allow dog owners a free pass when their dog bites someone for the first time. This can be a double-edged sword, depending on which side of the claim you’re on. For example, if you were bitten by a dog and sustained a major injury, the dog owner would not be held liable if the dog had never bitten anyone before.
On the other hand, if you were in a strict liability state, you could sue the owner of the dog regardless of the dog’s history. Only a few states have a combination of both rules, making mixed dog-bite states the most confusing laws to follow. Fortunately, here in California, it’s pretty straightforward—if you’re the victim of a dog bite, you’re entitled to compensation for economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages include medical expenses, lost wages, and lost earning capacity. Non-economic damages include emotional distress, mental suffering, and other non-physical pain and anguish caused by the injury. For clarification on certain definitions, it’s best to discuss specifics with a Los Angeles dog bite lawyer.
Not all firms specializing in personal injury law have dedicated attorneys that handle dog bite cases. When seeking legal advice, find a dog bite lawyer with experience handling cases like yours. A knowledgeable lawyer would advise you to seek immediate medical attention since injuries may not always appear right away. California dog bite laws emphasize that a visible skin puncture is not necessary for a victim to suffer from bruising or nerve damage.
What Does Strict Liability Mean?
The established dog bites laws in California are found in section 3342 of the Civil Code. As a strict liability state, owners can be held responsible for dog bite injuries if the dog has never previously shown aggression or bitten someone. Fundamentally, “strict liability” is the concept of holding someone liable for something, despite the fact they were not negligent. In other words, an injured victim does not have to prove negligence—a substantially different stance from most California laws. But what if you’re a dog owner and someone is suing you for a dog bite injury?
While the rules are relatively clear and simple, the following are exceptions to the law:
Trespassing on private property
The dog is military or law enforcement
Assumption of risk (veterinarian, kennel staff, and similar positions)
Partial fault of victim (harassing, annoying, or provoking the dog)
Do You Need Legal Help?
Every circumstance is unique—whether you’re a victim or dog owner, schedule a free consultation to discuss your case. Our firm provides legal counsel to clients in Southern California and has served thousands since 1998. We work on a contingency basis for all personal injury matters and only receive compensation if and when we obtain a settlement for our clients. Contact Yepremyan Law Firm to speak with our dog bite attorneys for additional information.
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