Californians own the most dogs of any state in the U.S, nearly 40% of California households own at least one dog and they are convinced it’s good for their health. The statistics support the notion that dogs can help lower blood pressure, decrease incidences of heart attacks, and reduce depression in humans.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that insurance companies pay out more money in dog bite settlements in California than any other state. With some of the most comprehensive laws dealing with dog bites, owners will normally be found liable in dog bite cases that occur in public places.
When Dog Owners Are Strictly Liable for Bites
California is one of the states with “strict liability” dog-bite laws that make pet owners responsible for most dog-bite injuries. When the victims sue to get compensation for their damages, it doesn’t matter whether the owners knew their dogs had ever bitten someone before. California is one of the states with “strict liability” dog-bite laws that make pet owners responsible for most dog-bite injuries. When the victims sue to get compensation for their damages, it doesn’t matter whether the owners knew their dogs had ever bitten someone before.
That means they can’t argue that they didn’t know their dogs could be dangerous, or that they took care to prevent the animals from hurting someone.
The law has some limits, however. The owner is strictly liable only if the injured person:
• was bitten, and
• was either in a public place or “lawfully in a private place” (including the dog owner’s property) when the bite happened.
For the purpose of the statute, anyone who’s carrying out a legal duty (like delivering mail) is lawfully on private property.
Injured people can’t sue under this statute if they were bitten by police or military dogs that were either doing law enforcement work or defending someone. However, this exception doesn’t apply to victims who weren’t suspected of participating in the alleged crime. That means that a crime victim may sue a city after being bitten by a police dog. (Cal. Civil Code § 3342 (2020); City of Huntington Beach v. City of Westminster, 57 Cal.App.4th 220 (Cal. App. 4th Dist. 1997).)
California courts have held that owners are generally exempt from liability if their dogs bite veterinarians or vet assistants during treatment. (Priebe v. Nelson, 39 Cal.4th 1112 (Cal. Sup. Ct. 2006).)