Does California’s Dog Bite Statute Protect Dogs who are Attacked?

Dog bite lawsuits: 4 situations where you will NOT win

California law applies strict liability to dog bite cases. This means an owner is liable for damages even if the dog has never shown violent tendencies and has never bitten someone before. But there are 4 key situations where a dog bite lawsuit is likely to be unsuccessful: (1) if the victim was trespassing on private property, (2) if the victim was deliberately provoking or instigating the dog, (3) if the dog was acting in legitimate self-defense of the owner, and (4) if you were bitten by a police or military dog that was being properly used by the agency. In this video, California personal injury attorney Neil Shouse explains. More info at or call (855)-JUSTICE or (855) 587-8423 for a free consultation.

California law permits people whose dog was attacked by another dog to sue for damages. But it is not California’s dog bite statute, Civil Code 3342, that applies in such cases.

Civil Code 3342 does not extend protection to dogs who are attacked and injured by other dogs. CC 3342 is a strict liability statute that solely protects humans.[1] 

Rather, California law classifies dogs as personal property.[2] Therefore, if a dog injures another dog, the defendant must bring a property damage lawsuit (or a less common action for "trespass to chattels.")

When is an owner liable for a dog biting another dog?

Under California law, liability occurs when the defendant damages the owner's property -- in this case, the plaintiff's dog -- as a result of the defendant's negligence[3] However, the defendant cannot be held legally liable unless:

  • The defendant  had notice of the dog's aggressive, dangerous, or vicious tendencies, or
  • The defendant was "negligent per se" because he or she violated a state or local animal control ordinance (such as a leash law) designed to protect human and health and safety.[4] 

What damages can be recovered when a dog bites another dog?

Damages that can be recovered for injury to a pet in California are usually for the greater of:

  1. The reduction of the animal's market value caused by the injury (most common with rare and valuable breeds), or
  2. The reasonable and necessary costs of the animal's treatment following the injury. [5] 

Additionally, it may be possible in cases of recklessness or an intentional attack for the defendant to recover:

Below, our California personal injury attorneys discuss the legal rights of pet owners whose animal have been injured by another animal.

1. Does California's dog bite law protect other dogs from injury? 

No.  The state of California classifies dogs as the personal property of the owner. Therefore, an injured dog owner can sue under a property damage theory of liability.  The interference with the property must be "intentional." This means as the owner of the injured animal, you must prove that the other owner had notice of the dog vicious tendencies.  

Example: Tom takes Spot to the dog park to play with other dogs.  While in the dog park, Tom notices that Spot growls, snaps, or lunges toward other dogs.  Tom now has notice of Spot's aggressive nature. 

Because Tom sees Spot acting aggressively towards other dogs, Tom is legally responsible if Spot attacks another animal.  However, if Spot had never shown signs of aggression prior to the incident, Tom is not liable for any damages because he did not have notice of the dog's dangerous propensities.

2. Is a California dog owner entitled compensation for the loss of market value to the injured dog? 

Yes.  The owner of the injured dog can seek a reduction in the animal's market value as damages.  The reduction of the animal's market value means the owner of the dog will be compensated for the difference between the animal's market value prior to and after the injury.  

Example: Sally's Pomeranian dog, Fancy, is valued at $1,000.00. Sally took Fancy to the dog park where Fancy was attacked by Spot.  Because of the attack, Fancy is now valued at $400.00.  

Sally would be entitled to $600.00 in damages, which is the difference between Fancy's value prior to the incident ($1,000.00) and after the incident ($400.00).  

3. Are the injured dog's medical bills payable to the dog owner? 

Yes.  The dog owner can still recover reasonable and necessary damages incurred for the animal's treatment following the injury, including all medical, pharmaceutical, and boarding costs. 

Example: Tom's poodle Pluto was attacked by another dog.  Because of the attack, Pluto sustained $1,000.00 in veterinarian bills, $100.00 in medications, and $100 in boarding costs.  

Tom would be entitled to $1,200.00 in damages for the reasonable and necessary costs to repair Pluto's injuries, including the medications and boarding costs. 

4. Can I get damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress? 

It is possible for the victim dog owner to get damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress.  

To recover damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress, the plaintiff has to show that: 

  1. The defendant dog owner exercised some sort of extreme and outrageous conduct, and either intended to cause, or recklessly caused, emotional distress to the owner of the injured dog; 
  2. The owner of the injured dog suffered severe or extreme emotional distress; and 
  3.  The cause of the emotional distress was the defendant's outrageous conduct.[8]

Although there is no direct ruling on whether intentional infliction of emotional distress damages are available to an owner whose dog is attacked by another dog, the California courts have given economic relief to animal owners whose pets are injured by other humans.

Therefore, it should be possible to get compensation if the injured dog owner can prove the defendant's extreme and outrageous conduct caused his or her injuries.

Was your family pet attacked by a dog? 

Contact our experienced dog bite attorneys for a free consultation. 

Call us at (855) LAWFIRM to discuss your case in confidence with an experienced California injury lawyer.

We have offices throughout California, including in Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, San Bernardino, San Diego and Riverside Counties, as well as Central and Northern California.

Related Topics:

  1. What is the “Statute of Limitations” for California's Dog Bite Law?
  2. Does California Require a Dog To Be Euthanized After It Bites Someone?
  3. Does California's Dog Bite Law Protect Trespassers?
  4. Does California have a “One Bite Rule”?
  5. Does California Require a Dog To Be Quarantined After It Bites Someone?
  6. Does Homeowner's Insurance Cover Dog Bites?

Legal References:

  1. Civ.Code § 3342 (a).
  2. Plotnik v. Meihaus,(2012) 208 Cal.App.4th 1590, 1606.
  3. Jamgotchian v. Slender, (2009) 170 Cal.App.4th 1384, 1401.
  4. Roos v. Loeser, (1919) 41 Cal.App. 782, 785; but see Delfino v. Sloan (1993) 20 Cal.App.4th 1429.
  5. Kimes v. Grosser, (2011) 195 Cal.App.4th 1556, 1559.
  6. Plotnik v. Meihaus, (2012) 208 Cal.App.4th 1590, 1609.
  7. Civil Code § 3294.
  8. Plotnik, endnote 6.

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