If you have a furry companion at your house, perhaps you have lingering concerns about your responsibility if the dog happens to bite someone. On the other hand, maybe you are troubled by an aggressive dog in your neighborhood and worry about the animal harming a member of your family. Either way, you’d like to know what the law has to say when dogs bite people.

California Civil Code Takes a Hard Stand on Dogs That Bite

Unlike canines in some states, California dogs do not get a free bite. Sometimes referred to as a strict liability state, California law is clear that owners are responsible for damages if their dogs bite someone. It doesn’t matter if the dog never bit anyone in the past or failed to show any previous aggression. The victim only needs to establish two facts:

  1. The injuries are the result of an actual dog bite. Although dog bites produce serious harm, unruly pets can cause other injuries. For example, a canine might get away from its owner, knock over an elderly person and cause the individual to break a bone. Although California’s dog bite law would not pertain to this situation, it could be pursued as negligence in a personal injury case.
  2. The biting incident occurred in a public area or private property where the victim had a lawful right to be present. Public areas include such spaces as sidewalks, parks or beaches. If the victim was invited onto private property, including the dog owner’s home, the person had a lawful right to be there. In addition, presence on private property would be lawful for individuals performing duties for a government agency, such as a postal employee. If the dog bites a trespasser, however, the case probably won’t succeed.

Although this section of the California Civil Code is clear, it typically does not apply to military or police dogs when they are on the job or defending themselves against harmful or aggressive acts.

Victims Must File Complaints Within Two Years

Like all personal injury cases, a statute of limitations applies. In California, the victim of the dog bite must formally file a document known as a complaint with the court within two years of the incident. The document should list the name of the dog owner being sued, the details of when and how the dog bite occurred, a description of the injuries and the amount of compensation the victim is seeking.

Dog Owners Should Proactively Control Their Pets

Even if your canine is friendly, affectionate and very gentle, remember that California law does not allow your pet a free first bite. Take some common-sense steps to avoid the embarrassment and liability of your dog biting someone:

  • Keep your dog constrained outside with a leash, physical fence or invisible fence.
  • Train your dog to walk close by your side on a leash.
  • Never let a young child walk your dog in public, especially a large or unruly dog.
  • Watch your dog at all times or put the dog in another room when you have guests.
  • Avoid situations that may upset or frighten your dog.
  • Cross the street when encountering a strange dog on a walk.

You Can Prevent a Dog Bite

Although the California Civil Code provides protection when dog bites occur, nobody wants the pain, health consequences and hassle they cause. Stay alert and follow precautions when you interact with dogs in public places or homes of family and friends:

  • Never leave your infant or toddler alone with any dog.
  • Refrain from surprising a dog that is sleeping or eating.
  • Avoid approaching or petting a strange dog.
  • Don’t show fear or turn and run when faced with an aggressive or threatening dog.

Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer If You or Your Dog Are Involved in an Incident

In spite of your best preventive efforts, you or your beloved pet may still face a dog-bite liability situation. Whether you need to pursue compensation for your injuries, or you require assistance with a lawsuit because your dog bit someone, the Law Offices of Brent D. George is here to help and advise you. Call us at (805) 494-8400 to schedule a free consultation today.