What Does California Law Say About Dog Bite Liability?

When a dog attack occurs, it can result in serious injury and associated medical bills. State law dictates legal responsibility when a person suffers a dog bite injury.

Review the state laws in California about whether a dog owner has liability for a bite by his or her pet.

Strict liability

California is a strict liability state, which means the dog’s owner must pay for financial damages even if the animal has never bitten anyone before. However, the plaintiff must prove that the dog’s owner failed to prevent the bite with reasonable care. Liability applies when a bite occurs at a public location or when the plaintiff was legally in a private location (either because he or she was performing an official duty such as delivering mail or accepted an invitation to the property).

Certain cases justify criminal charges in addition to civil charges, such as when a dog’s owner fails to provide his or her contact information to the victim after a bite in a public place. Serious injury caused by a dog trained to attack or with a known history of attacks can result in felony charges.

Exceptions to the law

California law limits dog bite liability involving military or police dogs assisting officers in cases where:

  • The dog was defending an officer of the peace or another individual.
  • The officer was executing a warrant.
  • The officer was investigating an actual or possible crime.
  • The officer was apprehending a suspect.

Dog bite liability does not apply if the plaintiff was harassing, bothering or otherwise teasing the dog at the time of the attack.

Dog bites can result in serious injuries, especially if the victim in the attack is a child. If you or your child are attacked by a dog, it is important to remember to get the contact information of the dog’s owner and seek immediate medical attention, before considering your options to hold the owner accountable.