Under California Law, an owner of a dog is held strictly liable when their dog bites someone.
“The owner of any dog is liable for the damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness.” (C.C. §3342(a))
This essentially eliminates California’s “One Free Bite Rule.” Previously, in order for an injured victim to win, the injured victim must prove that the owner knew or should have reasonably known about the dog’s past dangerous behavior. Basically, what that means is that the dog didn’t previously bite anyone. You know how hard that is to prove? If you’re relying on the person you are going after for compensation to be truthful about his or her knowledge regarding his or her dog’s previous biting incidents, then it’s almost impossible! The One Free Bite Rule usually allowed dog owners to escape liability – i.e. compensating injured victims for medical bills and pain and suffering. California’s dog bite law basically throws that out. Now, it holds the dog owner strictly liable.
Strict liability in this context means that it doesn’t matter what the owner did or didn’t know about his or her dog. It doesn’t matter if the dog bit anyone in the past. It doesn’t even matter if the dog owner took any precautions to prevent dog bites to anyone. Under strict liability, the owner will be held responsible, no matter what.
Now this law does not apply when a person is simply knocked over by a dog. There must be a bite! But the bite doesn’t have to break the skin. So long as the dog opened its mouth and wrapped its teeth around a body part or a piece of clothing you are wearing, then that is considered a bite. There doesn’t even have to be a wound. The court stated that even if the “dog did no more than seize the jeans within its jaws and pull, causing a person to fall and suffering injury” that is considered a bite and strict liability will apply. Johnson v. McMahan (1998) 68 Cal. App. 4th 173.
There are exceptions to the rule however, for example, if you are bitten by a police or military dog while it is on duty, then this law does not apply. Also, if you have assumed the risk of potential dog bites, then there maybe a defense to your case. For example, if you’re a veterinarian and you’re treating a dog, then you assumed the risk of being bitten by the dog. There are other job categories that fall under this assumption of risk as well. Also, the law doesn’t apply if you are a trespasser. There also maybe complications if the dog was provoked.
If you or a loved one has been bitten or attacked by a dog, call The Law Firm of R. Sam now for a free consultation! Remember: Nothing Recovered, Nothing Owed! We can help!