Understanding California's "Dog Bite" Statute

California's dog bite law is Section 3342 of the California Civil Code.  The statute compensates a dog bite victim for his or her injuries. Section 3342 states that dog owners are legally responsible for monetary damages if the victim is:

  1. in a public place or, 
  2. lawfully on any property, including the property of the dog owner. (not a trespasser) [1]

California Civil Code Section 3342 reads in part: 

"The owner of any dog is liable for the damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the dog 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 dog 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."

Some states, like Nevada, have a "one-bite" rule.   The "one-bite" rule provides that the dog owner must have notice of the animal's dangerous propensities in order to be liable.   

However, California Civil Code 3342 is a strict liability statute. Strict liability means that the dog owner is responsible irrespective if the owner knew or should have known about the dog's dangerous or vicious tendencies, or previous biting history. 

It is important to note that there are exceptions to this rule.  A dog bite victim might be precluded from recovering damages if the dog owner can prove that the victim:

  • trespassed;   
  • provoked the dog,
  • assumed the risk given the nature of his or her employment or activities, or
  • contributed to his or her own injuries. 

Below, our California personal injury attorneys addressed the key concerns of dog bite victims. 

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1. Does California have a "one-bite" rule? 

No.  While other states have a “one-bite rule,” California's dog bite statute is a strict liability statute. The one bite rule provides that the owner must have notice of a dog's aggressive behavior to be liable for the victim's injury.

Example: Fido occasionally snaps or growls at people who enter Tom's home.  While hosting a dinner party, Fido escapes from his crate and attacks one of Tom's guest.  Tom is liable under the one-bite rule because he has notice of Fido's aggressive behavior and failed to secure his dog while his guests were in his home.

Although Fido had not previously bitten anyone before the incident, Tom would still be liable because he had previous knowledge that Fido snaps and growls at people who enter his home.

Under California Civil Code 3342, a dog owner does not have to have notice of a dog's aggressive propensities.  Additionally, the dog bite victim does not have to prove that the dog has a history of violent behavior to recover damages.  

Example: Fido is a fun and friendly dog who plays with people who enter Tom's home. While hosting a dinner party, Fido escapes from his crate and attacks one of Tom's guest.

Although Fido has never exhibited violent or aggressive behavior, Tom is still liable under California's dog bite statute. All a dog bite victim has to prove is that he or she was injured by the owner's dog and he or she was lawfully on the owner's property. 

It's important to note that an owner whose dog has had a previous biting history could have his or her dog taken away or euthanized. 

2. Does California Civil Code 3342 apply if I am bitten in a public place? 

Yes.  Under California's dog bite statute, the dog owner is liable for damages if his or her dog attacks someone in a public place. A public place is a location that is open to the general public.  A neighborhood, park, bar, library, restaurant, beach, apartment complex, or a public square are all examples of public places.  

3. Does California's dog bite protect trespassers?

Section 3342 of California Civil Code only protects victims who are attacked in a public place or who are lawfully in a private place; this protection does not extend to trespassers.

A trespasser is someone who goes upon the premises of another without invitation, express or implied, and does so out of curiosity, or for his own purposes or convenience, and not in the performance of any duty requested by the owner of the property. [2]

Trespassers will be unable to assert a cause of action under Section 3342 but might be able to assert a negligence cause of action to collect damages for his or her injuries.  

4. Under Section 3342, what is an implied invitation? 

California's dog bite statute extends protection to victims who are lawfully on the property, either by express or implied invitation of the property owner.

An express invitation is an invitation directly communicated by the owner or occupant of the property to another party to enter onto the property.

 However, if the purpose to which the person enters the property is one of common interest or mutual benefit to the owner or occupant of the property, or in connection to a business opportunity, it is an implied invitation. [3]

Example: Tom has a garage sale placing items for sale in the backyard.   Sally walks into the backyard to look at the items for sale.   While looking through the items, Fido attacks Sally.

In this example, the property owner extended an implied invitation for Sally to enter certain areas of his property for a business purpose or mutual benefit to the property owner, or for the garage sale.  Because of the implied invitation, Sally may recover damages under California Civil Code 3342 because she was lawfully on Tom's property.

5.What defenses can the dog owner assert? 

There are three defenses a dog owner can assert to protect himself or herself from legal liability for your damages: 

  1. Assumption of Risk
  2. Comparative Negligence or Comparative Fault  
  3. Provocation

Assumption of Risk is a valid defense against damages.  It is asserted if a dog bite victim voluntary and knowingly engages in an inherently risky activity. 

Example: Tom brings Fido to the groomers to be cleaned.  During the cleaning, Fido bites the dog groomer. If a dog groomer tries to assert a cause of action under California's dog bite statute, Tom would argue that the dog groomer assumes the risk of being bitten by a dog because of the nature of his or her occupation. 

Comparative Fault occurs when the dog bite victim contributed fully or partially to his or her injuries. 

Example: Tom leaves Fido tied up in his front lawn.  Sally walks onto Tom's property and attempts to pet Fido.  Fido begins barking and growling at Sally, but Sally decides to touch Fido despite these clear signs of aggression.  If Fido bites Sally, Tom could argue that Sally is comparatively at fault for his own injuries, and should not be able to recover under Section 3342.

Provocation occurs when a dog bite victim provokes the dog. This typically includes some type of physical abuse towards the dog. 

Injured by a Dog in California? Call us for help...

An experienced personal injury attorney can help you determine if you will be successful in your case.  

If you or someone you know was injured by a dog in California, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation.

Call us at (855) LAWFIRM to discuss your case with a knowledgeable lawyer in your area.

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.

We may also be able to help you if were injured by a dog bite in Nevada.

Related Topics:

  1. Does California's Dog Bite Statute Protect Dogs who are Attacked?
  2. What is the “Statute of Limitations” for California's Dog Bite Law?
  3. Does California Require a Dog To Be Quarantined After It Bites Someone?
  4. Does Homeowner's Insurance Cover Dog Bites?

Legal References:

  1. Cal.Civ.Code § 3342 (a)
  2. Bauman v. Beaujean, 244 Cal. App. 2d 384, 389 (Ct. App. 1966).
  3. Aguilar v. Riverdale Co-op. Creamery Ass'n, 104 Cal. App. 263, 266 (Cal. Ct. App. 1930).

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