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California Dog Bite Laws

May 18, 2008
In California all dog owners are liable for their dogs actions that cause injury. 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 in a private place. The victim has to have a right to be in the private place. It could be by implied invitation or expressed invitation. The owner of the dog is liable even if the dog bites on the owner's property. It does not matter if the owner new or should have known the dog was vicious or not. A person is considered to be lawfully upon the private property when he is on the property in the performance of any duty imposed upon him by the laws of the State of California or by the laws or postal regulations of the United States, and also when the person on the private property on invitation from the property owner, the invitation could be expressed or implied.

Someone breaking into a private home and bitten by a dog would not have a cause of action under strict liability. If your dog rushes out and bites someone knocking on your door or if your dog bites someone that is there for the purpose of converting you to their religion or perhaps someone that is trying to sell you a subscription to a nonexistent magazine, then they would have a cause of action, because of implied invitation. If you happen to have a fence that is locked or just closed and with a sign advising that no one is invited implied or expressly then you are unlikely to be liable, but exceptions to this rule also apply, such as when you put a playground that children can see and is very inviting to children.

Under the California law if you are bitten in a place where you have a right to be, you automatically win on liability, and it is only a matter of proving damages. If you are bitten after ignoring a sign that says no invitation is made to enter my property expressly or impliedly then a different standard applies. The standard is one of negligence, was the owner's conduct reasonable. Training an attack dog to attack any human being upon entering the property is probably not reasonable, even if the dog is supposed to be a guard dog. There is also the mail man exception, the mail man has to drop off the owner's mail and if bitten would have a lawsuit against the dog owner, regardless of whether there is a sign or not, these exceptions are probably the same throughout the country.

The best way to avoid liability if you own a dog might be to put up a sign that says, one that says there is no implied invitation to this property, keep out, all others in consideration for entering this property you assume the risk of getting bitten by a dog or something similar. It would not eliminate the risk of liability for a dog biting a human being, especially if it is at night and there is no light on the sign, but otherwise if the sign can be read, it would help minimize or eliminate the risk of liability. The more reasonable the owners conduct the smaller the risk. If you order a dog to attack and the dog happens to be particularly aggressive and it kills. The dog may be considered a weapon, not much different than shooting a gun. It all comes to reasonableness on the part of the owner.

Unlike most car accidents a dog bite or dog attack is a special kind of personal injury claim for insurance companies. It is a type of claim that is not evaluated by a computer. The types of damages that are pursued are often for pain, suffering, emotional distress, disfigurement, loss or earnings, reasonable and necessary medical expenses, and future medical treatment. If the dog attack while the victim was doing something illegal, it is unlikely that a lawsuit can be maintained, but if not then these damages can be pursued.

California law states that a person cannot bring a lawsuit when a bite occurs if the dog is a military dog or police dog and the person bitten was annoying, harassing, or provoking the dog and the dog was defending itself. Also, a person cannot bring a lawsuit against a dogs used by the police or military, if the military dog or police dog was assisting an employee of the agency in apprehension or holding of a suspect where the employee has reasonable suspicion of the suspect's involvement in criminal activity. There is no real clear line as to what reasonable suspicion means. No lawsuits are permitted when the military or dog is assisting an employee of the agency in investigation of a crime or possible crime, in the execution of a warrant, and in the defense of a peace officer or another person.

Exceptions apply to military and police dogs as well. If the person bitten by a military or police dog is not a party to, nor a participant in, nor suspected to be a party to or a participant in, the act or acts that prompted the use of the dog in the military or police work, then the person is allowed to bring a lawsuit. When passing by a police dog caution is advised, because it is not unusual for passer-bys or bystanders to get bitten by a poorly trained dogs.

The police and military exception also has special requirements, for the police and military dog exception to apply the agency must also have adopted a written policy on the necessary and appropriate use of a dog for the type of work the dog is to do.

Once the dog bites, the law imposes additional duties, if a dog bites a human being, the owner of the dog is required to take steps to remove the danger of a bite from the same dog on another person.

Once the dog bites twice, any person, the DA, or city attorney can bring an action in court to determine if the confinement and treatment of the dog is sufficient to keep it out of danger to other persons. The court has the power, after hearing, to order that remove the dog from where it is confined, or even to destroy it if necessary.

A different standard applies when the dog has been trained to fight. If the dog has been trained to fight then only one bite is required for any person, the district attorney, or city attorney to bring an action in court to determine if the dog's confinement is sufficient to keep the dog from biting another human being. Once again after hearing the court has the power to prevent the reoccurence of a bite, by removal of the dog from the area or destruction if necessary.

Unlike some states, in California there are no free bites. If the dog bites a human being, there is liability for personal injury, unless there some sort of exception such as a police dog or military dog exception.
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