The California dog bite attorneys at Shouse Law Group help bite victims to bring lawsuits. We can help you recover damages for
California dog bite law imposes strict liability on the owners. This means the owner of any dog that bites you faces liability in a civil lawsuit for your injuries even if
- the animal has never bitten before and
- the owner had no reason to believe the animal was dangerous.
This contrasts with the common law “one bite rule,” in effect in other states, by which the owner is liable only if the dog has bitten someone before or has displayed violent tendencies.
California sees more dog bite lawsuits than any other state. California also ranks first for dog attacks on postal workers (782 in 2020 alone).1 Our attorneys assist victims across the state to file claims in dog bite and dog attack cases.
To help you better understand state dog bite law, our California personal injury lawyers discuss the following key questions:
- 1. How can a California dog bite lawyer help me?
- 2. Who is ineligible to sue in California?
- 3. How much can I sue for a dog bite in California?
- 4. Can I get punitive damages for a dog bite in California?
- 5. What if I cannot afford a doctor?
- 6. Does California have a “one-bite” rule?
- 7. Do I need to file a police report in order to sue?
- 8. Will the dog that bit me go into quarantine?
- 9. Can a dog be put down for biting me?
- 10. Does California homeowner’s insurance cover dog bites?
- 11. How long do I have to sue for a dog bite in California?
- 12. What if a dog attacked me but did not bite me?
- 13. Can I sue if another dog bites my dog?
- 14. Can I press criminal charges?
- 15. What are defenses to lawsuits in California?
A dog bite lawyer can
- investigate the circumstances surrounding the injury,
- identify the owner or responsible party for the dog,
- issue a demand for compensation, and
- file a civil lawsuit if the demand is not met.
Fortunately, California has favorable laws that protect victims and make owners liable for injuries caused by their dogs.
- You did not provoke the canine, and
- The dog bit you in public or while lawfully on private property (for example, you were an invited social guest or EMT responding to an emergency).2
Trespassers bitten by canines in California generally are not able to recover damages.
After a dog bite attack in California, you should:
- Get medical care right away;
- photograph your injuries and location as soon as possible since they serve as compelling evidence;
- get the name, home address, and contact information of the dog owner/handler and any eyewitnesses; and
- write down or record everything that happened since memories tend to fade with time.
If you cannot get owner information, contact the local Animal Control with a description of the dog.
- You were trespassing on private property (such as the dog owner’s property),
- You provoked the animal,
- The animal was protecting its owner or another person in accordance with California’s laws on self-defense, or
- The animal was a military or police canine being used appropriately in accordance with the agency’s written policy.3
If you have been bitten by a dog in California, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries from the wrongdoer’s insurance company. Compensatory damages that our California dog bite lawyers pursue may include:
- Medical expenses for all medical treatments, from the initial emergency room/hospital visits to rehab and cosmetic surgery,
- Physical or vocational therapy,
- Psychological counseling and therapy for emotional trauma, emotional distress, depression, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and cynophobia (fear of dogs) triggered by the attack,
- Lost wages,
- Lost earning capacity,
- Pain and suffering,
- Scarring and disfigurement from the puncture wounds and contusions, and/or
- Loss of the use of a limb (from broken bones/fractures to amputations).
Note that there are six grades of dog bites according to the Dunbar Bite Scale:
- Level 1: Aggressive but without skin contact
- Level 2: Teeth make contact without skin breakage
- Level 3: One bite with shallow wounds
- Level 4: One bite with deep wounds
- Level 5: Multiple bites with deep wounds
- Level 6: Death of the victim and/or flesh was consumed
You may be eligible for damages no matter your dog bite level. See our page on dog bite lawsuit payouts.
California law permits you to recover punitive damages in appropriate dog bite cases. Punitive damages – also known as “exemplary” damages – serve to punish defendants who engage in particularly bad behavior.
“Malice” occurs when the defendant acted “with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.”
Few dog bite cases in California have made it to the appellate courts, which establish a precedent for the lower courts.
However, there is nothing in the law that prevents a court from awarding punitive damages in a dog bite case.
If the bite victim was a minor (under 18 years of age), please see our page on compromising a minor’s claim in California.
If you do not have health insurance, you may be able to find a doctor willing to work on a medical lien in California.
Our California dog bite lawyers work with a number of doctors willing to provide medical attention to victims of dog bites on a California medical lien basis.
And if you have already found a doctor willing to work for a lien, we can help you negotiate the agreement so that you are not on the hook for huge medical bills if it turns out the dog’s owner does not have insurance or assets.
Some states (such as Nevada) follow a so-called “one bite rule”. These states do not impose liability for bites unless the owner is on notice that the canine has previously bitten someone or is otherwise dangerous.
California does not follow the one-bite rule.
California law imposes strict liability laws in canine attack cases. This means that you do not have to prove
- that the dog had a history of biting or “dangerous dog” behavior or
- that the owner was negligent.
In strict liability lawsuits that proceed to trial (which is rare since most cases settle), you have the burden to prove these four elements:
- The defendant owned the dog.
- The dog bit you while you were in a public place or lawfully on private property.
- You were harmed.
- The defendant’s dog was a substantial factor in causing your harm.
However, if a canine has bitten someone before, state law does impose an extra duty of care on the animal’s owner. Such an owner must take all reasonable steps to prevent other people from suffering bites.6
California law recognizes two classes of dangerous dogs:
- Potentially dangerous dogs:
- Any dog which, when unprovoked, on two separate occasions within the prior 36-month period, engages in any behavior that requires a defensive action by any person to prevent bodily injury when the person and the dog are off the property of the owner or keeper of the dog.
- Any dog which, when unprovoked, bites a person causing a less severe injury than as defined in Section 31604.
- Any dog which, when unprovoked, on two separate occasions within the prior 36-month period, has killed, seriously bitten, inflicted injury, or otherwise caused injury attacking a domestic animal off the property of the owner or keeper of the dog.
- Vicious dogs:
- Any dog that, when unprovoked, in an aggressive manner, inflicts severe injury on or kills a human being.
- Any dog previously determined to be and currently listed as a potentially dangerous dog that, after its owner or keeper has been notified of this determination, continues the behavior described in Section 31602 or is maintained in violation of Section 31641, 31642, or 31643.
If you get bitten by a potentially dangerous or a vicious dog – and the owner did not take precautions to keep the dog from hurting others – your legal case against the owner could be strengthened.7
Note also that with respect to cat bites, California law does impose a standard similar to the one-bite rule.
No. Though it may be easier to get punitive damages if a local animal control officer has
- investigated and
- determined that a dog is dangerous.
Plus it may put the owner on notice so that the owner can take steps to ensure the safety of others.
Furthermore, California law requires both owners and dog bite victims to report canine bites to your local county health officer. As well, doctors in California are obligated to report dog bites for which they provide treatment.
Reporting a canine bite to the county health officer does not mean the owner will be prosecuted under California’s criminal laws. Usually, the county just wants to make sure that the canine does not carry the rabies virus.
California’s quarantine laws require animals who have bitten you to be quarantined, usually for ten (10) days.8 During this time, the county will ensure that the canine does not carry the rabies virus.
Often the animal will be allowed to remain at the owner’s premises during the quarantine period. Otherwise, the animal will be held at a county Animal Care Center.
If the animal remains healthy during the quarantine period, authorities will release it back to the owner’s care.
Typically, canines who bite people will not be euthanized. The law does, however, permit euthanasia for canines who bite in California if:
- The animal has bitten a person on at least two separate occasions,9 or
- The animal was trained to fight, attack, or kill someone and it bites someone even once and causes serious injuries.10
Such canines can be
- taken from their owners and
- may be euthanized following a hearing.
The process of seeking euthanasia for a canine who bites can be initiated by any concerned individual – including, without limitation, the bite victim, a government official or even a neighbor.
Many renters’ and homeowner’s insurance policies cover personal injury claims for dog bite injuries. The typical coverage range is $100,000 to $300,000.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, canine bites are the most common liability claim on
- homeowners and
- renters insurance policies.
Some companies exclude liability coverage for animals of certain breeds considered to be the most dangerous.
Not all insurers have breed restrictions on their homeowner and renter policies. For instance, as of 2017, one of California’s largest insurers, State Farm, offers homeowner’s and renter’s insurance without breed restrictions.
With an average payout of almost $40,000 per dog bite claim, it pays for owners to ask about breed restrictions when they are shopping for insurance.11
Breeds that are often subject to restrictions include:
- Pit bulls,
- Staffordshire terriers,
- German Shepherds,
- Alaskan Malamutes,
- Siberian Huskies, and
- Wolf hybrids.
The statute of limitations (time deadline) for an injured person to sue in California is two years.12 The two-year period starts running on the date the bite or attack occurs.
If you fail to file your lawsuit within the two-year period, you usually cannot recover damages – even if you have been unable to identify the animal owner during this time period but later do so.
If you were injured by a canine but not bitten, you will generally need to show that the owner was negligent.
This means proving
- that the owner knew – or should have known – the canine could be dangerous and
- that the owner failed to take reasonable steps to prevent harm to others.
However, if the owner or handler violated a state or local statute meant to protect public health and/or safety, they will automatically be deemed at fault under California’s law on “negligence per se.”13
Yes, but not under California’s canine bite statute. Civil Code 3342 covers injuries to people. It does not allow you to sue when a dog bites another dog in California.
Under California law, canines are considered the personal property of their owners.14 Therefore when your canine is “damaged,” the usual cause of action is one for property damage (or a more obscure legal theory known as “trespass to chattels”).
The traditional measure of damages recoverable in a property damage lawsuit is the lesser of:
- The reduction in the property’s market value, or
- The costs of repairing the property (but not to exceed its market value).15
What damages can I get if my dog is bitten?
In recent years, California courts have begun acknowledging that a reduction in market value may not be the most appropriate measure of damages when a pet is injured.
Instead, you may be entitled to amounts you reasonably spent trying to “repair” the property (for example, veterinarian’s bills). The question is whether the amounts spent by the owner were reasonable.16
You may also be to get compensation if the other owner was convicted of animal cruelty charges. In such a case the court may award victim “restitution” as part of the owner’s sentence.
However, victim restitution for property damages is usually just the cost of repairing or replacing the damaged property.17
Can I get punitive damages in a “dog bites dog” case?
Yes, although such cases are rare. California law permits recovery of punitive damages if the owner or handler acted with “malice” – for instance, if they wrongfully ordered the animal to attack.18
Ultimately, it is up to the local District Attorney to decide whether to bring criminal charges against the owner of a canine who bites you in California.
Possible criminal charges against the animal owner include (but are not limited to):
- Animal abuse or cruelty, Penal Code 597 PC;
- Dogfighting, Penal Code 597.5 PC;
- Failing to control a dangerous animal, Penal Code 399 PC;
- Creating a public nuisance, Penal Code 372;
- Unlawful tethering, Health and Safety Code 122335 HS; or
- Leaving an animal in an unattended vehicle, Penal Code 597.7 PC.
If the victim dies, dog owners can even face criminal charges for manslaughter or even murder.
For more information on these crimes, please click on the appropriate link above or call our office for a consultation with one of our California dog bite lawyers.
Defenses to animal bite lawsuits can vary a great deal, depending on the facts of the case. Common defenses to dog bite injury claims include:
- The defendant was not the owner or handler (and was not, therefore, responsible).
- You sustained no injuries.
- The animal did not cause your injuries.
- The defendant exercised reasonable care with respect to restraining a dangerous canine.
- You or a third party provoked the animal.
- You were trespassing.
- You assumed the risk of a bite under California’s “assumption of risk” law – for instance, because you were a groomer, sitter, trainer, or veterinary technician. This is the “Veterinarian’s Rule” in California.19 Note, however, that the “Veterinarian’s Rule” does not apply if the defendant knew the canine was dangerous and failed to notify you.20
It is not a defense that you were a strong, able-bodied adult. Both adults and children are eligible for dog bite damages despite age, build, or vulnerabilities/disabilities.
Note that children five and under cannot be negligent. So even if a small child was provoking a dog, its owner cannot use the child’s provocations as a defense to biting the child.21
Shouse Law Group operates by contingency fee in dog bite cases. So our California dog bite lawyers do not get payment unless we win your case. That keeps it risk-free for you.
We settle the majority of cases through an out-of-court negotiation. We work as quickly as possible to recover the monetary compensation you deserve. If necessary, we are ready to take your matter to trial in pursuit of the maximum jury verdict under the law.
Our personal injury attorneys have offices and provide legal representation throughout the state of California, including in Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, San Bernardino, San Diego and Riverside Counties, as well as Central and Northern California. To discuss creating an attorney-client relationship and for legal advice, call us or fill out our contact form.
- Insurance Information Institute, Dog Bite Liability (“By state, California continues to have the largest number of claims in the United States, at 2,103 in 2020, down from 2,396 in 2019.”). U.S. Postal Service Releases Dog Attack National Rankings, USPS (June 10, 2021)(In California for 2020, Los Angeles ranks third at 54 bites, San Diego ranks tenth at 35 bites, Sacramento ranks sixteenth at 22 bites, Long Beach ranks eighteenth at 20 bites, and San Francisco ranks twenty-fourth at 14 bites). See also Investigation, Management, And Prevention Of Animal Bites In California, Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (2014).
- California Civil Code 3342(a). CACI 463. CACI 462.
- Same. Civil Code 3342(b) – (d). See also Strauss v. Magana (United States District Court for the Southern District of California, 2021) Case No.: 3:21-cv-01145-WQH-LL.
- See Beverly Hills Municipal Code 5-2-111, which imposes strict liability on “[a]ny person owning, controlling, or having care or custody of any animal.”
- Civil Code 3294.
- Civil Code 3342.5(a). See also Nelson v. Hall (Cal. App. 3d Dist. 1985), 165 Cal. App. 3d 709.
- Food and Agricultural Code sections 31602 & 31603. CACI 463. CACI 462.
- Code of Regulations, Title 17, Section 2606.
- Civil Code 3342.5(b).
- Civil Code 3342.5(c)
- Endnote 1.
- Code of Civil Procedure 335.1.
- Delfino v. Sloan (1993) 20 Cal.App.4th 1429. CACI 400. CACI 418.
- Kimes v. Grosser (2011) 195 Cal.App.4th 1556.
- Penal Code 1202.4(f)(3)(A) PC.
- Civil Code 3294, endnote 5.
- Priebe v. Nelson (2006) 39 Cal.4th 1112.
- Same. See also Davis v. Gaschler (Cal. App. 3d Dist., 1992), 11 Cal. App. 4th 1392.
- Gonzales v. Davis (1925) .