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Date Modified: April 9, 2023
Are you a landlord where a dog bit someone while lawfully on private property and is now being sued for injuries caused there? Many types of domestic animals and dogs might bite many types of people with or without vicious tendencies. A police dog might bite a criminal suspect, fellow emergency service personnel, and the animal’s owner. A spooked house pet might bite its veterinarians, house sitters, pet groomers, or dog trainers. This is true while on or off private property, even if they are not normally a known, vicious dog. Under California dog bite laws, most PI lawyers and cops assume private dog owners are 100% at fault for dog attacks regardless of where the bite occurred. California courts say otherwise.
Mostly, this is due to a misunderstanding of California’s legal term: “strict liability” dog bite victim law. However, not always is teh dog owner liable in dog bite cases, as will be discussed below. Let’s get into dog bite lawsuits for attacks on and off the dog owner’s property and other locations under the dog bite statute!
What strict liability in dog bite law means is that:
Few defenses apply if a dog bit you, as CA has no one-free-bite rule law.
Strict liability doesn’t mean owners or controllers of assaulting dogs get off fault-free every time in every dog bite case.
Attack victims must prove the dog was a known danger in other states and countries, unlike California law, holding the owner or controller strictly liable in most cases.
Most of these other places have a one-bite rule
In other words, your dog must have past bitten someone before evidence exists about your dog’s public danger before strict liability under negligence law attaches. But even the one-bite rule states won’t allow dog owners to escape 100%, especially when intentional acts remain at issue.
Liability attaches when an owner unjustifiably sicks his dog on a victim or uses his dog to rape a victim. The same theory would go for shooting a person with a gun with no justification.
So first, people need to know that animal attacks are not always the fault of the owner, despite the owner’s knowledge the dog was potentially dangerous. Because of this, people need to recognize when defenses apply and when they don’t, when dealing with negligence claims under California’s statute. Dog bite defenses can, in fact, thwart the strict liability statute under the Civil Code.
When Are Pet Owners Responsible for their Pets?
The bottom line is that you are almost always responsible for the acts of your pets and are normally held strictly liable in a negligence claim. In particular, dog owners should be aware of their dog biting a person; they can face civil suits. The news media often run stories about bite victims and such viciousness where the injuries caused are horrific and even deadly. Skin can be permanently scarred, nerve damage can occur, and a child’s eye can be bitten out. These stories relate to separate incidents and injuries suffered, the dog’s impounding, and the consequences the owner faces, whether the owner knew about it or not, even when they comply with the leash law to try and avoid liability.
Dog Bites and California Dog Bite Laws 101
Dog owners facing possible civil suits should consider consulting an experienced dog bite lawyer to defend against the plaintiff recovering compensation under California’s strict liability guidelines. The attorney specializing in dog bite injuries can specify the applicable law and how this could affect such owners. Even when bitten trespassers are not lawfully on private property by express or implied invitation, California dog bite laws protect their rights to sue. But the injured person is not always guaranteed a fat settlement check under California’s dog bite laws either. Here are several defenses available against dog bites to the owner of a dog, including the police or military.
What Are Some Possible Dog Owner Defenses?
The responsibility for the dog’s actions won’t always be with the dog’s owner, even after the dog bites someone. For example, there are instances when the dog bite occurs with justifiable cause. If the dog jumps at an attacker threatening its owner, such an owner probably has a great defense. But strict liability will likely apply if the dog jumps from a fenced yard at a woman pushing a baby stroller or a mail carrier. As discussed, every state has its specific dog bite laws regarding a property owner, or even victims like dog groomers. California has an extensive law (Civil Code Section 3342.) Ordinary negligence common law principles also can apply to make sure the dog owner or person handling the dog is held liable.
Exceptions to Dog Bite Strict Liability:
The victim was aware of the risk or was careless:What if the victim knew the dog might bite and chose to ignore the risk or accepted the risk of being bitten by the dog? Believe it or not, the owner/defendant might not be at fault. Again, this will depend on state laws. What if the owner has “beware of dog” signs posted or makes sure the person is aware of the danger? Again, the owner may escape fault. One instance could be a professional boarding or grooming business. In that case, those companies may assume the risk of assault by an animal under their care. After all, the dogs are often spooked and away from their element on another person’s property. So that could be taken as a part of the job. They may not be able to sue. The same thing applies to pet sitters bit by someone else’s dog or another domestic animal.
Provoking a dog:Whether intentional or unintentional, provoking a dog means the dog will lash out defensively. So, in this case, the dog owner may not be at fault. Imagine if the dog was being teased, tormented, or hit by the victim that suffered the dog bite. In some cases, the dog bites a victim that unintentionally provoked the dog, such as invading its space, or food, or even stepping on the dog’s paws. Even then, the dog owner may not retain fault. But this remains a wobbler. In other words, it could go either way. But the dog felt may have felt it was in danger. So there is the inquiry for a judge and jury.
Trespassing: When a person suffers a dog bite while trespassing or in the act of illegal activity, the dog owner may not be legally at fault. So this remains a gray area in some respects when hurt in such cases. Juries have had no sympathy for the person trespassing to commit a burglary and suffered a dog bite attack. But when a child or adult entered the property, such as a yard, with no harm intended, it may have a different outcome based on the circumstances.
How Can Dog Owners Avoid a Civil Suit?
Dog owners can take action to protect themselves and their dogs from legal actions. So this requires being vigilant in preventing the dog from biting any person. While in some instances, it remains avoidable, some precautions exist for the dog owner to take. These stay especially true if the dog may bite. Using a muzzle, in some instances, can be intelligent. But many more methods exist to avoid suits. Dogs doing military work are expected to bite in some instances, but only when justified. So yes, even the Marines can face civil liability depending on the legal rights of the bite victims for the incident. Military personnel can even face criminal charges if their dog attacks a human without the force of law.
Methods to Help Avoid Dog Bite Lawsuits:
Use Warning Signs:Dogs are protective of their territory “naturally.” So, putting up warning signs or “beware of dog” signs warns people before entering your property. They could be at risk, and that sign is proof you tried to make sure they didn’t become a plaintiff in a dog bite lawsuit. In any event, this can protect the dog owner legally, even if the dog killed someone. Most people will not enter a property with a warning sign placing them in danger of a dog attack or having the animal kill someone while defending against a trespasser.Locking the gate shows an effort to keep people out of danger. In other words, the dog owner is protecting people from possibly getting a bit. A stranger on the secured property is likely trespassing. In other words, they are on the premises without the owner’s permission, and the dog will defend itself, which is why the person was attacked.
Do not let aggressive dogs near children and strangers:Suppose an owner knows the dog may bite or attack, even with little or no provocation. In that case, the dog handler should take the dog to a place of hiding. At a minimum, secure or contain the dog to a place that is secured to prevent jumping over a fence or an escape. Also, do so in a way that keeps the dog from harassing a stranger or child. Again, this can mean putting the dog in another room or a kennel. That way, the child or adult remains unmolested. At the same time, present on the property and the dog is not threatened with being euthanized later by a government agency like animal control after an extended investigation and potential criminal liability for misdemeanor or felony crimes.
Stay Out of Bad Situations?
You heard right. Follow our guidance! Dog owners do not want to be in a situation where their pet has unjustifiably bitten another person who meant no harm. Due to negligent dog owners in the past and present, the responsible dog owner will need to prove their dog had a legitimate cause to bite. Police in the course and scope of employment may not be able to stay out of a bad spot, but they need to take the lead to protect the young and others from an unprovoked nip or bite.
So this is where being proactive is the best form of defense. Property owners should post signs, lock the gate, or put the dog out of range when they feel threatened. Also, this can potentially help protect the owner and the dog from a future possible civil lawsuit and dog impounding. Police departments and the military should clearly identify k-9 units on their cars or police yards to keep guests, suspected lawbreakers or even an employee from annoying these animals inside.
A dog is not always man’s best friend, and their keeper is not always responsible when the dog’s behavior becomes vicious and defensive or even causes a death while walking down the sidewalk. We just reviewed a few exceptions and defenses to dog bite strict liability, including defenses to crime and employment. Don’t be under the assumption your dog bite is a slam dunk case when you think you will be able to recover compensation. An exception may apply if you or your friend were attacked, such as a dog performing a law enforcement function.
Hire a top-rated lawyer to fight for you and your loved one who can handle and defeat dog bite law defenses. To learn more, reach out to Michael Ehline at Ehline Law Firm (213) 596-9642, or use our convenient website contact us form. For those unable to speak right now, we are available 24/7 for virtual consultations. Our personal injury law company looks forward to hearing from you! Your time to sue for a dog bite has limits (typically two years or less), so act promptly to schedule a connection.
Michael Ehline is an inactive U.S. Marine and world-famous legal historian. Michael helped draft the Cruise Ship Safety Act and has won some of U.S. history’s largest motorcycle accident settlements. Together with his legal team, Michael and the Ehline Law Firm collect damages on behalf of clients.
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