Common Questions About California’s Dog Bite Law

Dogs are widely regarded as man’s best friend, and most people are fortunate to regularly have positive experiences with them. However, dogs are also capable of inflicting tremendous harm when they attack, and even a dog with no known history of aggression or prior attacks can cause serious damage. If you or a loved one has experienced a dog attack, a California dog bite attorney will be invaluable for helping you recover.

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.

California Dog Bite Laws

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 Orange County 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.

Preparing a Dog Bite Suit in California

Success with any type of dog attack claim requires establishing strict liability. As long as you did not provoke the attack and you were legally present wherever the attack occurred, strict liability will apply, and the dog owner will be fully responsible for all resulting damages. After establishing strict liability, you will then need to prove the full extent of the damages you suffered from the attack.

The plaintiff in a personal injury case has the right to claim full repayment of all the direct financial losses they experienced because of the defendant’s actions. These typically include medical expenses, lost income, and property damage. However, the plaintiff can not only claim compensation for economic damages they suffered immediately following the incident, but also projected future damages resulting from the dog attack.

Along with economic damages, a plaintiff also has the right to seek compensation for their pain and suffering. This may sound too subjective to put into monetary terms, but a California dog bite attorney can assist their client in determining a suitable amount of pain and suffering compensation to seek with their claim. Generally, the more serious the injury, the more the plaintiff can seek in pain and suffering compensation.

Resolving Your Dog Bite Claim

Most of the personal injury cases filed end in private settlement, but litigation may be necessary in any case in which the defendant is unwilling to accept liability for a plaintiff’s damages or if they dispute the range of damages sought by the plaintiff. In either case, experienced legal counsel is an invaluable asset for the plaintiff as they seek compensation for the damages they sustained in a dog attack.

If the defendant in your case has failed to comply with previously imposed requirements for handling their dog, you could receive punitive damages along with your other claimed compensation. The dog owner would likely face a fine and/or other criminal penalties depending on the severity of their violation and the extent of harm their pet inflicted.

You’re likely to have many pressing legal questions in the aftermath of any dog attack. While the aforementioned information can provide a few key pointers when it comes to navigating California dog bite laws, the following are some of the most frequently asked questions our firm hears from prospective clients. Review these questions and our answers if you are unsure whether you have grounds to pursue a dog bite claim.


Q: What Happens to a Dog After It Bites Someone?

A: In most cases, the dog will be quarantined for medical examination after an attack to assess its temperament and to determine whether it poses a health hazard to the public. The dog may be returned to the owner, and the owner will need to follow strict rules to prevent further attacks. Once a dog has bitten people twice, a judge could order it to be euthanized if they believe it poses a threat of harm and cannot be rehabilitated.

Q: What Are the Penalties for a Dog Owner After Their Dog Bites Someone?

A: The owner of the dog that bit you will be liable for all resulting damages, but they may face additional penalties depending on the exact details of the attack and if their dog has previously injured anyone else. If a dog owner does not comply with leashing, muzzling, or containment restrictions imposed by the court, their dog may not only be euthanized, but they can also face criminal penalties such as heavy fines.

Q: What Are the Most Common Injuries From Dog Attacks?

A: Dog bites can result in painful puncture wounds, lacerations, and even broken bones and nerve damage. If a dog bites an extremity and thrashes the victim, it can easily rupture the skin and cause severe bleeding, and many such injuries will require extensive surgical correction. Dogs may also cause serious injuries if they knock a victim to the ground, such as traumatic brain damage, bone fractures, or even spinal injuries.

Q: Do I Need to Hire an Attorney for a Dog Bite Case?

A: The strict liability rule for dog attacks in the state may appear to make your case very simple, but the reality is that it is always advisable to secure legal counsel for any type of civil claim for damages. The right attorney can help firmly establish strict liability and uncover the full extent of damages you can seek from the owner of the dog that injured you, and they can likely accomplish this more quickly than you could manage alone.

Q: What Will It Cost to Hire a California Dog Bite Lawyer?

A: Easton & Easton accepts personal injury clients on a contingency fee basis, meaning you will not be required to pay any attorneys’ fees unless and until we secure compensation for you. You pay nothing if we are unable to secure compensation for your claim, and if we do win your case, you only part with a percentage of the final case award as our fee. This billing policy ensures legal counsel is accessible when you need it most.

The team at Easton & Easton is ready to answer any other questions you may have about California’s dog bite laws and to help you or a loved one recover from a recent attack. You have a limited time in which to file your case, so it is vital that you connect with a California dog bite lawyer as soon as possible. Contact Easton & Easton today to schedule a consultation with our team and learn more about the legal services we provide.