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Strict Liability in Dog Bite Cases

In dog bite cases, does California adhere to strict liability?

In California, legislation dictates that for dog owners to be held strictly liable if their animal bites or attacks another person. The dog bite victims, upon bringing lawsuit forward, are not beholden to prove that the attacking dog had a history of biting others previously. The dog bite victim is only required to show:

  • That he or she has been bitten
  • That the biting dog’s owner is in fact the owner of dog, or in some way responsible for the dog

California dog bite legislation holds in contrast with the legislation of some other states, which adhere to the principle of the one bite rule. The one bite rule dictates that dog owners can only be held liable if the dog has a history of biting another victim previously, or if the owner was privy to the dog history of violent tendencies and behaviors.

California’s dog bite legislation has much more leeway for victims to recover compensation for their injuries.

1. According to California legislation, what does it mean to be strictly liable for dog bites?

Strict liability entails responsibility that is without fault. In the circumstance of dog bite injuries, the legal principle of strict liability holds the dog owner liable for a victim’s injuries, even if the dog owner is not directly responsible for causing those injuries.

Consider the Following Fictitious Scenario: Alfred puts his predominantly calm dog, Lola, in her crate prior to the arrival of his dinner guests. Somehow, Lola escapes her crate and proceeds to viciously attack and then bite one of the guests. Doug is utterly taken aback and shocked by this sudden behavioral shift in the dog.

In California, strict liability for particular dog bites originates from California Civil Code 3342.

1.1. How is strict liability differentiated from the one-bite legislation?

Strict liability entails a set of stipulations that is different from that of one bite rule. Strict liability enables more dog bite victims to recover compensation for their associated losses.

While California utilizes strict liability for dog bite cases, other states have dog bite laws contingent upon legislation rooted in the one-bite rule. The one-bite rule exclusively holds dog owners accountable in cases in which dog owners are aware of their dog’s aggressive or dangerous tendencies.

Dog owners often become wary of their dog’s previous history of aggression in cases in which their dogs have already attacked or bitten someone. The previous biting incident in addition to the dog owner’s knowledge of the dog’s aggression is enough to put owners on alert, to protect others safety around their aggressive or violent dog. If owners fail to uphold this safety precaution, the one bite rule will hold them liable for any subsequent bite injuries cause by their dog.

States in close proximity to California that utilize the one-bite rule include:

  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • Wyoming.

1.2. How does strict liability differ from the legal negligence standard?

Strict liability is defined in a different capacity from the legal negligence standard.

Dog bite victims are eligible to recover compensation under the scope of the negligence standard by proving or showing that the dog owner acted in a negligent capacity at the time of the dog bite. The owner’s negligence has to have caused or be directly related the victim’s injuries.

The higher negligence standard render it increasingly difficult for victims to recover compensation, when compared to that of strict liability. Victims under the negligence standard are tasked with proving the difficult point that their injuries resulted in part due to the dog owner’s negligent conduct.

Consider the following fictitious Scenario: At a family event, Uncle Bob’s dog, Spot, keeps viciously barking at 7-year-old Eileen and aggressively lunging on his leash. Uncle Bob tries but fails to calm Spot down- from his aggression. Two hours later, Uncle Bob lets Spot run off his leash and he runs directly at Eileen proceeds to attack and bite her.

1.3. How does the legal negligence standard compare to the one-bite rule?

The one-bite rule is a serves as a definitive method of proving and upholding negligence on behalf of the dog owner. Dog owners who are aware of their dog’s previous attack or bite of another individual, are aware that their dog could be dangerous and a public hazard. If dog owners do not take additional precautions and measures to keep those around them safe when around their vicious dogs, this is a blatant sign of negligence, which courts may consider conclusive. Once a dog owner’s dog has shown a history of biting others in the past, courts will hold dog owners strictly liable.

2. What, if any, are the exceptions to California’s strict liability legislation for dog bite cases?

There are five critical exceptions, which hold under the purview of California’s strict liability ruling for dog bite cases. These exceptions are as follows:

  1. Trespassing dog bite victims
  2. Police, military or law enforcement dogs,
  3. Dog owner applicability
  4. People, such as veterinary workers, who have legally assumed the risk of dog bites or attakcs
  5. Victims who are found to be partially at fault for invoking or teasing the dog into aggression

2.1 Strict Liability Concerning Trespassers

California’s dog bite statute is only holds the dog owner strictly liable assuming that the dog bite victim was legally on the property at the time of injury.

Trespassers are classified as individuals who were not lawfully on the dog’s owner’s property at the time of the dog bite. Trespassers on the dog owner’s without explicit invitation do not have a legal right to be there. In the case of a dog bite affecting a trespasser, dog owners cannot be held strictly liable. A dog bite case, however, may still be pursued based on negligence.

2.2 Dog Bite Legislation and Law Enforcement Animals

Dog bite victims attacks and bitten by dogs that are working for the military or some form police or law enforcement, are unable to hold the government strictly liable for their injuries.

An exception to this stipulation is if the law enforcement dog attacks and bites an innocent bystander. According to California’s strict liability rules, innocent bystanders are eligible recover compensation.

2.3 Responsible Dog owners exclusively

California’s strict liability statute can only apply to actual dog owners, rather than dog sitters. If the person being sued for dog bite injuries was only temporarily dog sitting the animal, he or she cannot be held strictly liable for the victim’s resulting injuries.

2.4 Inherent Assumption of the risk, or also known as the “veterinarian’s rule”

Dog owners who face strict liability are able to use the defense that their dog bite victim assumed the inherent risk of being bitten by a dog, consistent with occupational risk. Certain professions and occupations are accompanied by a predictable and foreseeable risk of being bitten or attacked by dogs. Such professions inclusive of this risk include:

  • Veterinarians
  • Veterinary techs
  • Kennel workers
  • Animal groomers

People in these roles are unable to hold a dog owner strictly liable for their resulting dog bite injuries. In their professional occupations, they have assumed the inherent risks of incurring dog bites within their roles. However, they are still eligible to pursue compensation for a dog bite if they are able to prove that the injury resulting from the dog owner’s negligence.

2.5 Victims who are deemed partially at fault for dog bite injuries

Dog owners are able to defend against a strict liability claim by contending that the victim was partially to blame for the injuries incurred.

California’s comparative fault law diminishes and reduces a victim’s award by the percentage of fault they are deemed as responsible, in terms of bringing about their injuries. Dog bite victims can be held partially responsible if they engage in any of the following aggressive or invoking behaviors towards the dog that bit them:

  • Punching,
  • Hitting,
  • Kicking
  • Striking,
  • Harassing
  • Annoying
  • Provoking,

3. Can a dog owner be held liable for a dog bite without the oversight of strict liability?

Strict liability is not a required stipulation of dog bite compensation. In California, in addition to allowing victims to recover compensation by holding the owner strictly liable, legislation enables the recovery of compensation and damages under the legal standard of negligence. Consider the Following Fictitious Scenario: Allen was trespassing on Bill’s backyard when Joe’s vicious guard dog attacked and bit him. Bill watched the as the brutal dog attack happen, but did not take prompt action to call his dog off. Because of Bill’s decision to let his guard dog continue mauling, Allen now suffers life-threatening injuries and accruing medical bills resulting from the attack.

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