California ranks #1 in the nation for the highest amount of dog bites.
Even closer to home, Sacramento ranks number three among cities with the highest amount of dog bites in postal workers. Four point seven million people in the United States suffer from a dog bite each year. Out of this 4.7 million, about 50% are children under the age of ten.
Strict Liability on Dog Owners
California law establishes strict liability on dog owners if their dog attacks or bites a person that is on public property or is lawfully on private property. We are one of only a few states that have done so. Strict liability means that the owner is absolutely responsible for the actions of their dog, even in cases of first time bites and even when the owner is not aware of the dog’s tendencies to aggression. California Civil Code 3342 establishes that the owner is liable “regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or owner’s knowledge of such viciousness”.
Having this statute in place helps ensure the previous relationship of the victim and the dog owner stays intact. This happens because the statute makes the dog owner 100% responsible 100% of the time, hence, there is no tense litigation process. This is especially helpful because most dog bit instances include family and close friends.
Finding out if the owner of the dog has homeowner’s insurance or not is another key factor in dog bite cases as this is the vehicle that will pay for your injuries. If a person handling the dog is not the dog’s owner, they may still be liable for injuries if they are aware of previous dangerous actions from the dog or if they are negligent while taking care of the dog.
Specific municipalities of California have enacted their own strict liability codes. For instance, the Beverly Hills municipal code 5-2-111 states:
A. Any person owning, controlling, or having care or custody of any animal shall be liable for any injury caused by such animal, and for any damage caused to any public property, or to any private property.
B. Any person owning, controlling or having care or custody of any animal shall take such reasonable and necessary precautions as required to protect all persons from physical harm from such animal, and to protect the private property of any other person. (1962 Code §§ 5-1.108, 5-1.207; amd. Ord. 09-O-2560, eff. 2-6-2009)
The dog bite statute in California is limited to the biting dog’s owner, however. The only defense allowable is non-ownership of the biting dog. "[A] keeper, in contrast to an owner, is not an insurer of the good behavior of a dog, but must have scienter or knowledge of the vicious propensities of the animal before liability for injuries inflicted by such animal shall attach to him." (Buffington v. Nicholson (1947) 78 Cal.App.2d 37, 42 [177 P.2d 51].)
In Menches v. Inglewood Humane Society (1942) 51 Cal. App. 2d 415, 418, the court held that the victim of the dog bite, who had only moments before adopted the dog, was not able to sue the Humane Society for the damages incurred when he was bitten.
In California, the plaintiff must bear the burden of proof as to which dog bit him and to whom the dog belongs. California, unlike many states, also limits the statues to bites only, dismissing damages done by other means such as scratching.
A dog bite victim who was trespassing is also unable to sue the dog’s owner if a bite incurs. Fullerton v. Conan (1948) 87 Cal.App.2d 354 set the precedent when a young girl opened a dog’s gate while visiting with her mother. She was bitten but was unable to sue because opening the gate was tantamount to trespassing.
Special circumstances apply when minors are bitten by a dog in California. Law states that children under the age of 5 are incapable of negligent behavior, therefore, not at fault in a dog bite situation. In some cases, the minor’s parents may be held responsible, however.
Don't Let Your Statute of Limitations Run Out
In California, the law imposes a statute of limitations, which sets a maximum amount of time that legal proceedings can occur after the date the incident. Each year, people call me to ask me for help that have legitimate cases, only to find their statute of limitations has run out. It is one of the most difficult things for me to tell them I can’t help because they waited too long.
In California, as set forth by California Code of Civil Procedure Section 335.1, a plaintiff has two years to file a claim against a dog owner for a dog bite resulting in injury, damages and/or death.
335.1. Within two years: An action for assault, battery, or injury to, or for the death of, an individual caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another.
Call Us For Help - (916) 444-4444
If you or a loved one have suffered from a dog bite, you will need a lawyer with experience. Moseley Collins is a personal injury attorney serving those badly hurt throughout California. There is no fee to discuss your case and there is no fee unless we win.
980 9th St, 16th Floor
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 444-4444