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Orange County Personal Injury Lawyers Outline the Basis for Imposing Liability in a Dog Bite Lawsuit


While dogs traditionally are regarded as “man’s best friend,” the behavior of any animal can be unpredictable. Our Orange County personal injury lawyers recognize that many people never expect to be attacked and bitten by a dog, but dog bite incidents are more common than you might realize. There were over 16,550 homeowner’s insurance claims filed for dog bite injuries in the United States during the most recent year for which data is available from the Insurance Information Institute (III). California had the nation’s highest number of dog bite claims with over 1,867 dog bite claims during that period, amounting to 54 percent more dog bite claims than the next highest state. Overall, the enormous impact of dog attacks is reflected by the fact that they account for one-third of all homeowner’s insurance claims in an aggregate amount that exceeds $530 million per year.

California Imposes Strict Liability on Dog Owner’s for Bite Injuries

Because the risk of suffering a serious injury in a dog attack or mauling incident is an all too common scenario for many people, our Orange County personal injury lawyers have provided an overview of the legal basis for imposing liability in dog bite cases. The applicable law will vary depending on the location of your injury because many cities have leash laws and their own dog bite laws that can provide a basis for liability. However, the good news for dog bite victims is that state law in California imposes strict liability on dog owners whose canine bites others without being provoked subject to narrow exceptions. California Civil Code, Section 3342 provides in pertinent part:

“(a) The owner of any dog is liable for damages suffered by any person who is bitten by a dog with in a public place or lawfully in a private place … regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness.”

Generally, this statutory provision makes clear that dog owners are strictly liable for bite-related injuries provided the victim is not a trespasser. While this statute favors victims of dog attacks, there are exceptions that often make it necessary for a Orange County personal injury lawyer to explore other grounds for imposing liability depending on the circumstances. These exceptions include:

Non-Dog Owner: If the property owner is leasing their home to a dog owner, the renter can be sued using this statute but not the property owner. This can be problematic because the owner of the premises typically will have homeowner’s insurance to cover the claim, but the tenant might not have insurance coverage or assets against which a judgement can be enforced.

Injuries Other Than Bites: While a bite might be the first type of injury that you think of someone experiencing in a dog attack, mauling injuries or falls also can cause significant injury without an actual bite. For example, a bicyclist might be knocked over when riding past a house where a loose dog is running at large in the front yard. If the dog charges the bicyclist and topples the bike causing the cyclist to suffer a broken arm, this claim would not fall under the dog bite statute.

Provoking the Dog: If a dog attack victim is antagonizing the dog and provokes a bite, this provocation constitutes a defense that the dog owner can assert. This defense does not apply if the victim is a child under the age of five, or the child is otherwise adhering to the instructions of his or her parent.

While these are the most widely applicable exceptions to the dog bite statute, there are others, such as those for an employee of the dog owner, law enforcement officers using a K9 unit, and a few other special situations, so you should speak to an experienced Orange County personal injury attorney to determine whether the dog bite statute can be used to pursue a claim under your specific circumstances.

Violation of Local Statute Provides Broader Basis for Imposing Liability

When the California dog bite statute does not apply, dog bite victims often can rely on local statutes. Most municipalities have leash laws which can be used to pursue a claim that does not involve a bite. These laws vary from city to city but generally require that the owner of a dog keep their pet fenced or on a leash. Frequently, a leash law can provide a basis for imposing liability when a dog causes injury to another person when running at large.

Many cities also have local laws that impose liability on dog owners for injuries caused by their canines. These local ordinances vary, but some are broad enough to impose liability on non-owners and for injuries other than bites. Some of these local laws also authorize compensation for property damage rather than just injuries, so you should seek legal advice from an experienced Orange County personal injury lawyer to learn about local dog bite laws in your city/county.

Negligence Provides another Independent Justification for Pursuing a Dog Bite Claim

While the California dog bite statute and local ordinances provide the benefit of permitting claims to proceed based on strict liability (i.e. liability without fault), negligence can provide an alternative basis for imposing liability. The primary difference is that the person against whom a claim is filed must be established to have engaged in negligent (e.g. unreasonably careless) conduct that leads to the dog causing an injury when the owner had prior knowledge of the dog’s vicious propensity. Again, this approach can be valuable when the injury is from a fall as opposed to a bite.

Our Orange County personal injury attorneys are available to speak to prospective clients 24/7. We handle all cases on a contingency fee basis, so you do not owe any attorney fees until we obtain a settlement or trial verdict on your behalf. Our attorneys handle cases throughout California. Our lawyers at the Law Offices of Allen, Flatt, Ballidis & Leslie offer a free dog bite consultation so call us at schedule your free consultation today!

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