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California’s dog bite laws

On Behalf of | Oct 8, 2018 | Injuries

Generally, California has three different sets of civil laws concerning dog bite cases. First, California’s legislative branch has enacted Civil Code, section 3342, which makes the owner of a dog (who has bitten a person) liable if certain conditions are met. Second, the judiciary has established what is known as the dangerous propensity standard. And, third, the general negligence laws (which make people liable when their negligence causes harm) is a source of law from which the injured can seek damages for being injured. This blog will discuss the these difference sources of law for dog bite cases.

Statutory laws: Civil Code, Sec. 3342.

In California, the owner of a dog is liable for the damages suffered by anyone who is bitten by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the dog owner’s property, regardless of the prior viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of that viciousness. (Civil Code, § 3342, subd. (a).) A person is lawfully upon the private property, when he is on the property in the performance of any duty imposed upon him by California law or the United States postal regulations, or when he is on the property upon the invitation, express or implied, of the owner. (Civil Code, § 3342, subd. (a).)

The Dangerous Propensity Standard.

Alternatively, a person who keeps, owns, or controls an animal of a species that is dangerous by nature, or that the person knows or has reason to know has dangerous propensities or traits, is strictly liable to anyone injured because of those propensities or traits. (See, e.g., Hillman v. Garcia-Ruby (1955) 44 Cal.2d 625, 626; Northon v. Schultz (1955) 130 Cal.App.2d 488, 489.) “In such instances the owner is an insurer against the acts of the animal, to one who is injured without fault, and the question of the owner’s negligence is not in the case.” (Hillman v Garcia-Ruby, supra, 44 Cal.2d at p. 626.)

Moreover, although dangerous propensities are generally deemed abnormal to dogs as a class, this strict liability rule is applicable if a particular dog has dangerous propensities of which the owner knew or had reason to know. (See, Drake v. Dean (1993) 15 Cal.App.4th 915, 922-924.) Further, the dangerous propensities of a dog and the knowledge thereof by the owner may be inferred from, among other things, the dog’s size and breed. (See, Frederickson v. Kepner (1947) 82 Cal.App.2d 905, 908.)

General Negligence

Alternatively, liability of an animal’s owner may be based on negligence whether or not the animal is known to be vicious. (See, e.g., Barnett v. La Mesa Post No. 282 (1940) 15 Cal.2d 191, 194; Talizin v. Oak Creek Riding Club (1959) 176 Cal.App.2d 429, 437- 38.) “[N]egligence may be predicated on the characteristics of the animal which, . . . create a foreseeable risk of harm. As to those characteristics, the owner has a duty to anticipate the harm and to exercise ordinary care to prevent the harm.” (Drake v. Dean, supra, 15 Cal.App.4th at p. 929.) California courts have indicated that a defendant’s negligence may consist of conduct such as failing to ascertain whether the animal has a dangerous propensity, (Talizin v. Oak Creek Riding Club, supra, 176 Cal.App.2d at p. 435), or failing to restrain a dangerous animal or an animal with a dangerous habit. (Drake v. Dean, supra, 15 Cal.App.4th at p. 931.)

Further, California law provides that “[e]veryone is responsible, not only for the result of his or her willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his or her want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his or her property or person.” (Civil Code, § 1714, subd. (a).) In this regard, “‘[t]he elements of a cause of action for negligence are well established. They are “(a) a legal duty to use due care; (b) a breach of such legal duty; [and] (c) the breach as the proximate or legal cause of the resulting injury.”‘” (Ladd v. County of San Mateo (1996) 12 Cal.4th 913, 917.)

At Kashfian & Kashfian, LLP, we have experience with dog bite cases, and as your counselor, we will fight vigorously on your behalf. Contact our offices to learn more about the services that we provide.

Please note that Kashfian & Kashfian, LLP makes available the information on this website for general informational purposes only. Internet subscribers and online readers should not rely nor construe the information on this website as legal advice or as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from an attorney licensed in your state.