Whether you are a dog owner in California or you believe you have enough evidence to file a dog bite lawsuit, you should learn about how California handles dog bite cases. State statutes cover everything from minor dog bites that do not break through skin to violent attacks by one or more dogs that cause serious and even life-threatening injuries.
Strict Owner Liability in California
California is one of a few states that have enacted strict liability statutes that address dog bites. The strict wording of California dog bite laws makes dog owners legally responsible for most dog bite incidents. When a victim plans to sue a dog owner for a dog bite, it does not matter whether the owner knew his or her dog had ever bitten someone before.
California law places strict liability on dog owners if a dog bite incident meets two primary criteria. First, a victim had to receive a dog bite. A dog that jumps on or scratches another person, but never bit the person, is not covered by strict liability law. Second, the dog bite had to occur in a public space or “lawfully in a private place” that includes a dog owner’s property.
Strict liability in California does not apply to military or law enforcement dogs, as long as the dogs were working at the time of a dog bite incident. However, the working dog exception does not apply to cases where someone who was not suspected of committing a crime received a bite from a working dog.
California Law and Dangerous Dogs
Although California’s strict liability law applies to do most dogs regardless of history, another state law requires dog owners to be responsible for taking “reasonable steps” to prevent future attacks for a dog that has bitten another person before. A victim can sue the owner of a dog that has bitten a human two times in two separate incidents. The court can issue a ruling that removes a dangerous dog from its owner or in some cases, euthanizes the dangerous dog.
California also enforces a different law that mandates a legal procedure for controlling dangerous dogs. Either an animal control officer or a representative from a law enforcement agency files a petition for a hearing when they believe a canine poses a serious threat to public health and safety. The petition can be based on witness accounts made by animal control workers or law enforcement agency personnel, as well as from members of the community. If the court rules that a dog poses a dangerous threat, the decision can force the owner of the dangerous dog to keep the canine indoors, in a fenced yard that keeps the dog on the owner’s property, or on a secure leash controlled by a responsible adult.
California law considers a dog dangerous if it commits one or more of the following acts:
- Killed or injured a domestic animal without provocation two times over the previous three years
- Forced people to defend themselves against an unprovoked attack two times over the prior three years
- Bit a person without provocation
California law defines a vicious dog in one of two ways:
- A canine that used aggression to injure or kill a person
- A court ruled a dog is dangerous and the dog committed the same dangerous act a second time
Criminal Charges for Dog Bites
Any dog owner might face criminal charges if the canine injures someone while roaming in the community. A criminal charge must include evidence that the dog owner knew the canine was capable of committing dangerous acts. A felony conviction is possible in cases where a dog killed a victim. For cases that produced one or more injuries, the dog owner can face a felony or a misdemeanor charge. The type of criminal charge depends on the severity of the injury, as well as the viciousness of the canine attack.
Contact a Dog bite Lawyer
If you are a dog owner that faces a civil lawsuit for a dog bite incident, you should speak with a California personal injury attorney who handles dog bite cases. Your lawyer can present one or more defenses that can help you avoid a prolonged civil trial. If you face one or more criminal charges for a dog bite incident, your personal injury attorney can refer you to an experienced criminal defense lawyer.