What is the “Statute of Limitations” for California’s Dog Bite Law?

The statute of limitations to file a lawsuit under California's dog bite statute is two years from the date the attack occurred. [1] A dog bite victim who fails to file his or her lawsuit within this time limit will forever be barred from doing so. 

California's dog bite statute is Section 3342 of the California Civil Code. The statute provides monetary compensation to a victim who is bitten on public property or lawfully on private property. [2]  

Below, our California personal injury attorneys discuss frequently asked questions about the statute of limitations for California's dog bite statute.

1. What is the statute of limitations for California's dog bite law? 

The statute of the limitations is the federal or state deadline to file a lawsuit.  In the state of California, the statute of limitations for Section 3342 is two years.

 This deadline is absolute and non-negotiable. This means that missing the statute of limitations, even by one day, will result in the dismissal of your case.   If the court dismisses your case, you will lose the opportunity to recover money compensation for your injuries.

For example, the dog Spot bites Sally on December 15, 2015.  Sally sues Spot's owner on December 19, 2017.  The court dismisses Sally's lawsuit because it got filed outside of the requisite time period.  Sally should have filed her lawsuit by December 15, 2017 to meet the two-year deadline. Since Sally filed her lawsuit four (4) days after the statute of limitations expired, she would not be entitled to any damages for injuries.   

The statute of limitations varies depending on the legal theory for the lawsuit. There may be more than one type of theory on which recovery can be based. Therefore, even if the statute of limitations on one theory has run, there may be another on which a claim can be brought.

2. When does the California dog bite statute of limitations begin? 

California law dictates that a claim accrues when the last element essential to the cause of action occurs.  [3]. In most personal injury cases, the last element essential to the cause of action is the injury or damages.  Therefore, the statute of limitations starts to run on the date that the injury occurred.   

A dog bite case is a type of personal injury case; consequently, the statute of limitations begins the run the date that the attack (and thus the injury) occurred. However, in some cases, the statute of limitations might be tolled (or paused).

3. What does "tolling" of the statute of limitations mean?

Tolling is where the statute of limitations is suspended for a certain period of time.  Typically, it is due to an act outside of the injured party's control.  For example, the statute of limitations may be tolled when the defendant is:

  • under the age of 18, 
  • out of the state,
  • in prison, or 
  • legally insane.

Once the condition leading to tolling has ended, the statute of limitations resumes. Cases involving tolling can be quite complicated. Consult with an experienced California injury lawyer to determine the applicable statute of limitations for your case.

4. What if I cannot identify the dog owner? Can I toll the statute of limitations? 

No.  Failure to identify the dog owner will not toll the statute of limitations.  The court presumes that once a dog bite victim is aware of the injury, the applicable limitations period affords adequate opportunity to discover the identity of the owner. [4] 

5. When is the best time to file suit under California's dog bite statute? 

The best time to file a lawsuit under California's dog bite law varies on a case-by-case basis.  Generally, the best time to file suit is after your injuries are diagnosed and treated, but before the statute of limitations has expired.  The timeline for filing suit varies given the extent of your injuries.

Questions about your California dog bite case? Give us a call! 

An expired statute of limitations is one of the most frequent defenses to personal injury lawsuits. Contact an experienced California dog bite lawyer who will preserve your rights.

 Call us at 855-JUSTICE for a free consultation with one of our experienced California personal injury attorneys.

 We may also be able to help if you have been injured in Las Vegas and have questions about Nevada's statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits.

Legal References:

  1. Cal.Civ.Code § 3342 (a)
  2. Code Civ. Proc., § 335.1Pritchard v. Sharp (1974) 41 Cal.App.3d 530, 531
  3. Brandon G. v. Gray (2003) 111 Cal.App.4th 29, 35
  4. Naftzger v. American Numismatic Society(1996) 42 Cal.App.4th 421, 431, as modified on denial of reh'g (Mar. 4, 1996)

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