What Are the Laws Concerning Dog Bites in California?
With more than 4.7 million dog bite cases annually, aggressive dogs are a serious problem in the United States, requiring a total of 800,000 men, women, and children to seek medical treatment, about 16 of whom do not survive their injuries. Fortunately, in California laws have been enacted to provide legal recourse for the victims of such attacks.
“Recovering from the injuries sustained in a dog attack can not only be painful and emotionally trying but also prohibitively expensive,” explained California personal injury lawyer James Ballidis.
With recent reports indicating a spike in dog bite claims in California, it is important for residents to know their rights and options should they or their loved ones become victims of an attack:
California Dog Bite Law
In the state of California, there are several legal theories under which an individual can recover after he or she is bitten by a dog. One legal theory is found in the state’s dog bite statute in California Civil Code section 3342. Under this statute, the owner, possessor or harborer of a dog is automatically liable for a bite that occurs regardless of knowledge of aggression or previous bites. This is referred to as a "strict liability" rule for dog bites and differs from the "one-bite" rule applied in many other states that imposes liability only if the dog owner has reason to suspect the dog of aggression or if a previous bite had occurred.
An individual who has been bitten by a dog in California can also recover under a common law doctrine of scienter, which imposes liability based on the knowledge that the animal is dangerous. According to Hillman v. Garcia-Ruby, 44 Cal.2d 625, 626 (1955), someone who keeps an animal that is by nature dangerous or who keeps an animal he or she knows or has reason to know is dangerous can be liable without wrongful intent or negligence. The liability under this legal theory is imposed based on the defendant's willful decision to keep a dangerous animal, not on the owner's negligence.
Finally, the victim of a dog bite can recover under general negligence theories and negligence per se. A basic negligence case holds a defendant liable if the defendant owed a duty and the duty was breached (i.e. his behavior fell below the standard of reasonable care that would be expected of a hypothetical reasonable person in the same situation.). Negligence per se holds a defendant liable if his behavior was a violation of some safety law, with no specific burden on the plaintiff to prove negligence.
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