California "Dog Bite" Laws

California law imposes “strict liability” for dog bites. The owner of a dog who bites someone is liable for that person's injuries even if the dog has never bitten before and the owner did nothing wrong.

Dog bites can cause serious and debilitating injuries. If you or someone you care about was bitten by a dog, you may be entitled to compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering and more.

California has more dog bite claims than any other state.1 Our law firm assists victims across the state to file lawsuits in dog bite and dog attach cases. 

To help you better understand California's dog bite laws, our California personal injury lawyers discuss the following, below:

enraged German Shepard baring its teeth

1. When can I get damages for a dog bite in California?

California Civil Code section 3342 makes dog owners liable for injuries to others as long as:

  1. The person did not provoke the dog, and
  2. The person was bitten in public or while lawfully on private property (i.e., not trespassing).2

2. Who cannot sue for a dog bite in California?

People may not generally recover damages for dog bites in California if:

  • They were trespassing on private property,
  • They provoked the dog,
  • The dog was protecting its owner or another person in accordance with California's laws on self-defense, or
  • The dog was a military or police dog being used appropriately in accordance with the agency's written policy.3

3. What damages are covered?

People who have been bitten by a dog in California are entitled to recover compensatory damages for their injuries . Such damages may include, without limitation:

Additionally families of people whose loved ones have suffered dog bite injuries may be able to recover wrongful death damages or damages for loss of consortium in California.

4. Can I get punitive damages for a dog bite in California?

California law permits dog bite victims to recover punitive damages in appropriate cases. Punitive damages - also known as "exemplary" damages - serve to punish a defendant who engages in particularly bad behavior.

To recover punitive damages the plaintiff must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant's actions amounted to “oppression, fraud or malice.”4

This usually means proving that the defendant acted “with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.”

In the context of a dog bite or other animal attack, the plaintiff will have to prove that:

  • The owner knew the dog had bitten or attacked someone before, or
  • The owner knew the dog had been trained to attack people;

AND

  • The owner recklessly or intentionally failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the dog from biting others.
muzzled pit bull
California requires owners to take reasonable steps to prevent harm when their dog has a history of biting

5. What if I can't afford a doctor?

People who don't 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 treat dog bite victims on a California medical lien basis.

And if you've 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 doesn't have insurance or assets.

6. Does California follow the “one-bite” rule?

Some states (such as Nevada) follow a so-called “one-bite” rule. These states do not impose liability for dog bites unless the owner is on notice that a dog has previously bitten someone or is other dangerous.

California does not follow the one-bite rule.

California law imposes strict liability for dog bites. This means that a plaintiff does not have to prove that the dog had a history of biting or dangerous behavior or that the owner was negligent.

However, if a dog has bitten someone before, California law does impose an extra duty of care on the dog's owner. Such an owner must take all reasonable steps to prevent other people from being bitten.6

Additionally, dogs with a history of biting can have their dogs taken away and even euthanized following a hearing. Anyone – including government officials or a concerned neighbor -- can bring suit for such a hearing against an owner when:

  • A dog has bitten people two times or more,7 or
  • A dog that was trained to fight, attack, or kill bites someone just once and causes substantial physical injury.8

7. Do I need to file a police report in order to sue?

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.

La Mesa, California female animal control officer posing with her official truck

8. Does California homeowner's insurance cover dog bites?

Many homeowner's and renter's insurance policies cover dog bite injuries in California.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, dog bites are the most common liability claim on homeowners and renters insurance policies.9

But some companies exclude liability coverage for dogs 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 dog owners to ask about breed restrictions when they are shopping for insurance.10

Dog breeds that are often subject to restrictions include:

  • Pit bulls,
  • Staffordshire terriers,
  • Dobermans,
  • German Shepherds,
  • Chows,
  • Akitas,
  • Alaskan Malamutes,
  • Siberian Huskies, and
  • Wolf hybrids.

9. What if I was attacked by a dog but not bitten?

People who were injured by a dog 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 dog could be dangerous and that the owner failed to take reasonable steps to prevent harm to others.

If the owner violated a law or statute relating to the dog, it might be considered negligence "per se." This means that by violating a dog control ordinance, the owner may be presumed to have been negligent.

In addition, some municipalities in California impose strict liability on animal owners for any injury or property damage.3 

An experienced California injury attorney can tell you what laws apply in your jurisdiction.

Injured by a dog in California? Call us for help…

female receptionist

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) JUSTICE 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.


Legal references:

  1. Insurance Information Institute, Dog Bite Liability.
  2. California Civil Code 3342(a) provides: "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."
  3. Same. See also California Civil Code 3342(b) – (d).
  4. 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."

  5. California Civil Code 3294.

  6. California Civil Code 3342.5(a).
  7. California Civil Code 3342.5(b).
  8. California Civil Code 3342.5(c).
  9. See endnote 1.
  10. Same.

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