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In California, is a “trespasser” eligible to pursue a dog bite lawsuit?

Contrary to popular belief, a trespasser can sometimes hold a dog owner liable for a dog bite injury. However, the trespasser must be able to prove the dog owner’s negligence. Trespassers are unable to claim California’s dog bite statutes, which affords conventional dog bite victims the greatest legal protections.

Rather, trespassers are tasked with showing that the dog owner exhibited negligence, which contributed to the legal damages resulting from the dog bite. Proving negligence involved establishing liability as it inferred under the one-bite rule.

1. In California, is it possible for trespassers hold dog owners liable if their dog bites them?

Trespassers are eligible hold dog owners liable for sustained dog bite injuries. However, it is important to note that trespassers will confront a far more difficult set of circumstances in proving their cases. Trespassers are note awarded the legal protection granted to other dog bite victims by California’s dog bite statute. Trespassers that have been bitten are required to prove the following:

  • That the dog owner acted negligently
  • That the dog owner’s negligence directly caused their injuries.

California Civil Code 3342 is the state’s dog bite statute, which holds dog owners strictly liable for dog bites that happen in the following circumstances:

  • On public property, or
  • In a location where the dog bite victim had the lawful right to be situated

As trespassers are situated neither lawfully, nor on public property, they are subsequently rendered legally unprotected by Civil Code 3342. Trespassers are unable to rely on strict liability to win their dog bite lawsuit or case.

Trespassers, however, are able to recover compensation for their injuries and damages by demonstrating that the dog owner or another party was negligent, and that this negligence ultimate caused the trespasser’s injuries. In the case of negligence, the trespasser can hold responsible parties liable.

2. How can a trespasser demonstrate that their injuries resulted from the dog owner’s negligence?

A trespasser can demonstrate that the person responsible for the dog was negligent by either proving that they:

  • Were outwardly negligent in failing to prevent the dog bite, or
  • They had previous knowledge or should have been aware of the dog’s history of aggressive behavioral tendencies

2.1. Holding dog owners liable for in the case that they fail to prevent a dog bite

Trespassers who are bitten by a dog are eligible to hold the dog’s owner liable for acting negligently, by failing to prevent the bite.

Dog owners have a legal obligation to not promote or cause an unreasonable risk of injury or harm to other individuals. The risk is classified as progressively unreasonable if it is predictable that a dog is capable of attacking, biting and injuring someone. If dog owners fail to prevent a dog bite in this capacity, then their negligence has caused the dog bite. For this negligent behavior, dog owners can be held liable.

2.2. Holding the dog owner liable for being ignorant their dog’s aggressive behavioral tendencies

Dog owners are capable of being held strictly liable for dog bites if they are aware or should have been aware of their dog’s history of aggressive and dangerous behavior. In order to prove the dog owner’s awareness and knowledge of their dog’s violent tendencies, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the dog has a history of biting someone previously. This falls under the purview of the one-bite rule.

Victims who wish to hold the dog’s owner liable for their knowledge of their dog’s history of violence or aggression are required to show the following:

  • The defendant owned or controlled a dog,
  • The dog’s disposition was unusually dangerous nature or aggressive tendencies,
  • Prior to the attack, the defendant or dog owner was aware or should have been aware of the potential danger posed by their aggressive dog
  • The dog’s aggressive tendencies were an indisputable substantial factor in the victim’s resulting dog bite injuries

The law in California imposes strict liability on dog owners who should have had previous knowledge or awareness of their dog’s violent tendencies or aggression. In these cases, dog owners are held strictly liable for their dog’s attacks and bites, notwithstanding of how carefully they have trained or controlled their dogs previously.

3. What is considered a trespasser?

trespasser is defined as an individual who is unlawfully located on someone else’s property. The following conditions are considered unlawful in the case of a trespasser if he or she is:

  • Not invited on the property – this invitation can outward or implicit
  • Not performing an official duty on the property in a professional or lawful capacity
  • Stays past the extent of the original invitation from the property owner or resident
  • Refuses to leave once the invitation to the property is revoked.

Example: Allen is an Amazon deliveryman. He is performing an official duty when he opens the gate, walks up the porch steps, and drops of ordered packages in the mailbox by the front door.

Example: Lola sets up a garage sale in her front yard and advertises it online. The people who come to the garage sale have an implied invitation to look through the merchandise featured. Lola is able to revoke that invitation by telling someone to leave. A patron can easily become a trespasser if they open the gate and enter Lola’s backyard without her permission.

4. What distinguishes strict liability from negligence?

Strict liability is defined as liability without faultNegligence, however, is defined as conduct that, while not intentional, was still explicitly or implicitly dangerous or harmful.

With respect to dog bites, strict liability renders it substantially simpler to prove a dog bite victim’s case for rightful compensation. The dog owner could and should have done everything to prevent the dog bite from transpiring. If the dog owner did not adhere to proper dog bite prevention precautions, then he or she can be held liable for the bite and resulting injuries.

Proving a dog owner’s negligence is more challenging. In cases of negligence, victims are required to prove that the dog owner’s action or lack thereof resulted in a bite and respective injury.

5. Is the dog owner able claim that the trespasser was partially at fault for the resulting injuries?

A critical defense that a dog owner can leverage in a dog bite claim brought by a trespasser is that the notion that trespasser was partially at fault for his or her own injuries.

California utilizes the comparative fault rule, which reduces the amount of compensation that a victim is eligible recover based on the percentage of fault the victim contributed to his or her injuries. A jury plays a determining rule in deciding the percentage of fault that will be ascribed to a trespassing dog bite victim in their specific case.Example: Aaron is wandering aimlessly through the woods. He is unaware but he has mistakenly has entered Javian’s property. Javian’s dog, Spot, viciously attacks Aaron. He suffers $200,000 in damages and correspondingly sues Javian. The jury finds Aaron 50% at fault for his trespassing. Therefore, he can only accordingly recover $100,000 in eligible compensation for his damages.

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