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Understanding dog owner liability in California

On Behalf of | Apr 15, 2022 | Dog Bites

Dog-related liability varies from state to state. Some states abide by the so-called “one-bite rule.” Under this type of law, a dog owner cannot be held liable the first time their dog bites someone else, if the owner did not realize the dog had violent tendencies. After the first bite, however, the owner must take measures to control the dog and risks liability for any subsequent instances of dog biting.

California, however, does not follow this rule. In California, dog owners are “strictly liable” for any injuries caused by their dog. This liability applies to injuries to humans as well as to any animal owned by a human – such as a pet or livestock. The owner must pay for any medical care or other type of treatment for the injury.

In addition, the owner is not just liable for dog-bite injuries, but for any injuries their dog causes. If a dog knocks over an elderly woman walking down the street and she breaks her hip, the dog owner can be held liable for those injuries too.

It is worth noting that California courts have ruled that this liability will usually not apply to owners whose dogs bite a veterinarian – or veterinarian assistant – who is providing care to the animal.

Additional liability

The above-stated form of liability applies to all types of dog-induced injuries – even if the owner made a good-faith effort to control their animal and prevent the accident from occurring. However, if a dog owner neglected to take adequate steps to control their dog, then they could also be liable for negligence. If negligence can be proven, a plaintiff may also be able to receive payment for additional damages. Let’s look at two examples:

Acting responsibly

A pet owner is taking their dog for a walk. Suddenly, the dog gets excited and lunges forward. Its force overpowers the owner, who loses their grip on the leash. The dog runs into a nearby farmer’s market, tipping over a produce stand and knocking down a vendor. In this case, the owner had their dog on a leash. They tried (and failed) to act responsibly to control the dog. Therefore, they would likely only be liable for injuries to the vendor.

Acting negligently

Now, let’s take the same example as above, only this time, the dog isn’t on a leash at all. In this case, the vendor could prove that the owner was negligent by failing to restrain their dog, and they could be held liable both for the vendor’s medical care as well as for any damages and loss from the produce stand.

It’s important for victims of dog-related injuries to understand their protections under the law – and their rights to seek justice. An experienced dog-bite injury attorney can provide valuable guidance in this process.

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