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California dog bite liability laws

Dog bites can cause victims serious physical and emotional harm and result in costly medical bills. Because of this, California law allows victims to pursue compensation via personal injury lawsuits.

Every state has a unique set of dog bite liability laws. While many states grant dog owners leeway and maintain a one-bite rule, California maintains a strict liability standard for dog related injuries. California Civil Code Section 3342 – 3324.5 details the state’s dog bite laws.

Strict liability for dog bite injuries

In states that maintain one-bite rules, dog owners are not liable for bite injuries if they had no reason to suspect that their dogs would act in malicious or harmful manners. This means that most owners can skirt liability for first-time bites. In California, however, dog owners are liable for injuries their pets cause on either public or private property, regardless of the animal’s former viciousness or the owner’s knowledge of prior aggressive behavior.

Criminal liability for dog bites

If a dog does not have a history of biting or attacking people or other animals, the owner may face civil liability but nothing more. However, if, according to FindLaw, an owner fails to secure a dog either with a history of viciousness or that was trained to attack, he or she could face felony charges if the dog causes serious injury or death.

The law considers a dog “potentially dangerous” if, within a period of 36 months, the dog, unprovoked, engages in behavior that requires the owner to intervene to prevent bodily injury on two separate occasions. The same applies if a dog causes injury or seriously bites, kills or otherwise attacks a harmless domestic animal on public or another person’s property.

The law considers a dog “vicious” if the dog causes the serious injury or death of a human being despite lack of provocation. The law may also deem a dog “vicious” if, despite a previous “potentially dangerous” determination, the owner allows the dog’s aggressive behavior to continue.

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