Common questions about California’s dog bite law

It’s important for dog bite injury victims in California to be familiar with the relevant liability laws, legal deadlines and exceptions to both.

Each year, about 4.5 million dog bites occur in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The victims are usually people who live in the same household as the dog, but in some cases, people suffer injuries when other people's dogs attack them. In these situations, victims may have grounds for making personal injury claims and pursuing compensation.

The issue of liability for dog bites is addressed specifically under one section of the California Civil Code. It's important for dog bite victims in Costa Mesa to know when claims are permitted under this law and understand the factors that may affect the final outcome of each claim.

When are owners liable for dog bites?

A dog's owner may be found liable if the dog bites another person while that person is on public property or lawfully present on private property. A person's presence on private property is considered legal in the following circumstances:

•· The owner invited the person onto the property, either directly or through implication.

  • The person was performing some kind of duty that state laws provide for.
  • The person was performing a duty established under federal postal laws.

In cases when a person is not lawfully present on private property, the dog's owner may make the case that the victim was trespassing. This may bar the victim from receiving compensation.

What if an owner didn't know a dog was dangerous?

In some states, victims of dog bites must prove that the dog's owner had reason to believe that the dog might bite and failed to take precautions accordingly. However, this is not the case under California's strict dog bite liability laws. Even if a dog has not formerly showed any signs that it might bite, an owner can be held liable when a bite occurs.

Are the laws different for police dogs?

The standards for establishing liability are distinct in cases involving police dogs, military dogs or other dogs that are used for official government work. Typically, bite victims cannot make claims if one of these dogs was defending an officer or assisting an officer in performing various duties. These include detaining suspects, executing warrants and investigating crimes.

There are a few exceptions to this provision, however. If the dog attack victim was not involved in a crime or suspected of involvement, he or she may be able to make a claim. Additionally, if an agency lacks a written policy for properly using a police or military dog, a bite victim might be able to seek compensation.

What if the dog was provoked?

Bite victims might not be able to recover compensation if they contributed to the injury by attacking or provoking the dog. Such contributory behavior can reduce the amount of compensation that a person may secure, since California follows comparative fault laws. However, there are exceptions for very young children, who arguably aren't cognizant enough of the danger of dog bites to exercise appropriate care around dogs.

What is the statute of limitations?

In California, dog bite cases fall under the same statute of limitations as other serious personal injury cases. Generally, victims must file claims within two years of the date that the bite occurred. However, if the claim is against a government entity, it usually must be made within six months of the date of the attack.

Given these short deadlines, people who have suffered dog bite injuries may benefit from seeking legal advice. An attorney may be able to clear up common questions or assist a person in preparing his or her claim.