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Dog Bites and Animal Attacks

Overview of California Dog Bite Law

Your dog may be your best buddy, but he can also become a financial liability if he bites someone.  Dog bite claims account for more than a third of all homeowner’s insurance liability claims paid out.  According to the Insurance Information Institute, the number of claims annually is around 15,000 to 16,000 over the last 10 years.  But the average cost per claim was more than $29,000 in 2011, an increase of 25 percent in eight years, mostly because of increases in medical costs.

On top of providing appropriate animal care and training, owners have a duty to avert a potentially deadly animal encounter by:

  • Treating aggression early. If curbed early on, a dog that is prone to aggression towards other animals or people can sometimes be remedied by an experienced dog trainer through behavioral modification techniques. Behavioral training does not always work, but the earlier it is done the better the chance it will.

  • Always leash your dog. In most cities, it is against the law for an owner to let their dog loose without a leash when not on their property.
  • Update your dog's vaccinations. As required by the state, vaccinations for rabies and other diseases as specified by the California Department of Public Health and Environment must be kept current, or the dog must be kept contained and not permitted to roam about freely.
  • Keep your dog away from strangers. You can never predict how an animal will react to someone it doesn't know. Many dog attacks are first-time incidents in which the dog showed no indications of being aggressive prior to the confrontation.
  • Put up warning signs. If your dog shows signs of aggression towards people coming onto your property, post "Beware of Dog" notices around the premises. Also, keep in mind that young children may not be able to read, so it is wise to put a lock on the gate too.

In addition to taking the necessary steps to prevent an attack, dog owners need to be familiar with local and state laws regarding their pets.
The strict liability rule does offer some protection to dog owners.  A dog owner cannot be held responsible if his dog bites someone if any of the following conditions exist:

  • The person who the dog bit was a trespasser.  The law states that if any person was on the property of another without permission, express or implied, then such a person is a trespasser.  If a dog bites a trespasser, the owner is not held liable under the strict liability rule.

  • If the dog bites the vet who is treating him, the owner is not held liable for the dog bite.

  • If a dog bites someone who provoked the dog, then the owner may not be held liable for the dog bite.  In many cases where a dog owner has told people to stay away from his dog, but the person has still advanced towards the dog and got bitten, the dog owner is not usually held responsible because it is deemed that the victim unnecessarily provoked the dog in spite of being told not to.

  • If a dog has bitten someone while helping the police or during a military operation, the owner will not be held responsible.

California imposes strict liability to dog owners for any damages suffered by any person as the result of a dog bite.  The main feature of this statute is that liability is assigned regardless of the dog’s former showing of vicious tendencies or the owner’s knowledge of the dog’s viciousness.
California Civil Code 3342 (any dog, bite only) states that while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog.  (A person is lawfully upon the private property of such owner within the meaning of this section when he is on such property in the performance of any duty imposed upon him by the laws of this state or by the laws or postal regulations of the United States, or when he is on such property upon the invitation, express or implied, of the owner).
The California dog bite attorneys at the Law Office of Warren Nguyen have extensive experience in representing victims of dog bites.  Our dog bite attorneys can help you in negotiations with insurance companies over compensation for present and future medical costs.  If you or a loved one has suffered a dog bite injury, contact our office today at (408) 603-9751 for a free consultation.