Mark Twain once said, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” Regardless of size, California law imposes strict liability on owners when a dog bites or injures any person. Owners of misbehaving dogs could end up paying big damages, even if their pooch doesn’t have a history of biting or vicious behavior.
Per California Civil Code §3342, dog owners are liable for damages suffered by anyone who is bitten by the owner’s dog while in a public place, or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog. The viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness may be irrelevant to the owner’s liability.
A common defense for owners whose pets have bitten someone centers on whether the victim of the dog bite was lawfully on the property of the owner. In other words, trespassers may not have a strong case if the facts determine that the victim did not have permission to be on the owner’s property and was found to be trespassing.
Civil Code §3342 explains that to lawfully be upon the private property of the owner, a person must have been invited, or given the express or implied consent of the owner. Of course, individuals such as police officers, firefighters and postal workers are sometimes bitten or attacked by dogs, but these subjects may enter private property in the performance of their duties, or under the normal course of business.
What about dogs that are known to be vicious or have previously bitten people? California Civil Code §3342.5 requires that the owner of any dog that has previously bitten any person, to take reasonable steps to remove any dangers presented, which may lead to further bites by the dog in question. In fact, a dog owner’s failure to mitigate dangerous conditions that cause additional bites or injuries can include civil actions against the owner, as well as the court making any order it deems appropriate to prevent the recurrence of such an incident, including, but not limited to, the removal of the animal from the area or its destruction if necessary.
What are the dog owner’s responsibilities? Dog owners need to take reasonable steps to ensure that their animal does not injure those it comes in contact with. Failure to do so could mean that the owner is liable under the general theory of negligence. In other words, a dog owner must take steps to prevent reasonably foreseeable attacks by their pet in order to avoid liability. For example, an owner who lets their dog run through open, public spaces, without a leash, should foresee that the dog may attack or injure someone it encounters. The same can be said for property enclosures that are not maintained and allow the dog to escape from the owner’s property. Unfortunately, it is an all too common sight to see stray dogs, many with collars and tags, running the streets.
How does one prove liability and negligence? Although not all dog bites cases are litigated in court, many do end up before a jury, who will decide whether or not the dog owner was responsible for your injuries. According to California Civil Jury Instruction 463, People who own dogs can be held responsible for the harm from a dog bite, no matter how carefully they guard or restrain their dogs. To establish the claim, one must prove all of the following:
1. That the defendant owned a dog;
2. That the dog bit the plaintiff while he or she was in a public place or lawfully on private property;
3. That the plaintiff was harmed; and
4. That the defendant’s dog was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s harm;
If the injury took place on private property, it must also be established that the plaintiff was lawfully on the private property of the owner, performing any duty required by law or was on the property at the invitation, express or implied, of the owner.
In order to recover damages it is important that you discuss your case with an experienced lawyer. Typical damages that you may be compensated for include medical expenses, loss of wages, permanent scaring or injury, future loss of wages due to injury, disability, and even wrongful death. Don’t get bit by bad advice; contact us to learn more about your right to be compensated for your injuries.