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 owners. This means the owner of a dog that bites someone faces liability in a civil lawsuit for the victim’s 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 “one bite rule,” in effect in other states, by which the owner is only held liable 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).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 an injured victim?
- 2. Who is ineligible to sue in California?
- 3. How much can you 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 be quarantined?
- 9. Can a dog be put down for biting someone?
- 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 I was attacked by a dog but not bitten?
- 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.
- The person did not provoke the canine, and
- The person was bitten in public or while lawfully on private property (for example, not trespassing).2
Trespassers bitten by canines in California generally are not able to recover damages.
After a dog bite attack in California, victims are advised to:
- Get medical care right away;
- photograph their 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.
Victims who cannot get owner information can contact the local Animal Control with a description of the dog.
- They were trespassing on private property (such as the dog owner’s property),
- They 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
People who have been bitten by a dog in California are often entitled to compensation for their injuries from the wrongdoer’s insurance company. Compensatory damages 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
Victims may be eligible for damages no matter their dog bite level. See our page on dog bite lawsuit payouts.
California law permits people 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.
People who do not have health insurance may be able to find a doctor willing to work on a medical lien in California.
We 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 in canine attack cases. This means that a plaintiff does not have to prove
- that the dog had a history of biting or “dangerous dog” behavior or
- that the owner was negligent.
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 being bitten.6
Note also that with respect to cat bites, California law does impose a standard similar to the one-bite rule.
No. But it may be easier to get punitive damages if a local animal control officer has
- investigated and
- determined that a dog is dangerous.
And 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 their 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 someone to be quarantined, usually for ten (10) days.7 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 it will then be released 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,8 or
- The animal was trained to fight, attack, or kill someone and it bites someone even once and causes serious injuries.9
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.10
But some companies exclude liability coverage for animals of certain breeds.
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.
But 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) to sue in California is two years.12 The two-year period starts running on the date the bite or attack occurs.
A bite victim who fails to file his or her lawsuit within the two-year period usually cannot recover damages – even if the victim has been unable to identify the animal owner during this time period but later does so.
People who were injured by a canine but not bitten 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, he or she 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 people 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 someone’s 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, plaintiffs may be entitled to amounts the plaintiff 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
An owner 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 limited to 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 he or she 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 someone 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.
For more information on these crimes, please click on the appropriate link above or call our office for a free 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 include:
- The defendant was not the owner or handler (and was not, therefore, responsible).
- The plaintiff was not injured.
- The plaintiff’s injuries were not caused by the animal.
- The defendant exercised reasonable care with respect to restraining a dangerous canine.
- The animal was provoked by the plaintiff or a third party.
- The plaintiff assumed the risk of a bite under California’s “assumption of risk” law – for instance, because he or she was a groomer or veterinary technician. This is known as 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 the plaintiff.20
It is not a defense that the victim was a strong, able-bodied adult. Both adults and children are eligible for dog bite damages despite their age, build, or vulnerabilities/disabilities.
Shouse Law Group operates by contingency fee in dog bite cases. So we do not get paid unless we win your case. That keeps it risk-free for our clients.
We settle the majority of cases through an out-of-court negotiation. And we work as quickly as possible to recover the monetary compensation you deserve. But 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, 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).
- California Civil Code 3342(a) provides: “The owner of any [canine] is liable for the damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the [canine] while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, regardless of the former viciousness of the [canine] or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness. A person is lawfully upon the private property of such owner within the meaning of this section when he is on such property in the performance of any duty imposed upon him by the laws of this state or by the laws or postal regulations of the United States, or when he is on such property upon the invitation, express or implied, of the owner.”
- Same. See also Civil Code 3342(b) – (d).
- See, e.g., 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).
- Code of Regulations, Title 17, Section 2606.
- Civil Code 3342.5(b).
- Civil Code 3342.5(c).
- See endnote 1.
- Code of Civil Procedure 335.1.
- Delfino v. Sloan (1993) 20 Cal.App.4th 1429.
- Kimes v. Grosser (2011) 195 Cal.App.4th 1556.
- Penal Code 1202.4(f)(3)(A) PC: “The value of stolen or damaged property shall be the replacement cost of like property, or the actual cost of repairing the property when repair is possible.”
- Civil Code 3294, endnote 5.
- Priebe v. Nelson (2006) 39 Cal.4th 1112.