Does California's Dog Bite Law Protect Trespassers?

No. California’s dog bite law does not protect trespassers.  Section 3342 of the California Civil Code is a strict liability statute only protects victims who are attacked in a public place or lawfully in a private place. [1] A person is lawfully in a private place”, either by express or implied invitation of the property owner.

The victim trespasser 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. 

Below, our California personal injury attorneys address the legal rights of a trespasser in California.

Trespasser

1. Does California dog bite law protect trespassers? 

No.  California's dog bite law 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]

Example:  Brooke owns a Chihuahua named Sprinkles. Sam is Brooke's eighteen-year-old (18) next-door neighbor.  One night while Brooke was not at home, Sam jumped over the fence to jump on Brooke's trampoline and drink beer.  While in Brooke's backyard, Sprinkles bites Sam on his ankle.    

Sam could not recover damages under California's dog bite statute.  Sam purposely entered onto Brook's property without her permission for his own purpose, i.e., to jump on the trampoline.  Since Sam trespassed on Brook's property, he falls outside of the class of victims the statute was intended to protect. 

2. What theory of liability can a trespasser assert against a dog owner in California? 

The victim trespasser could assert a negligence cause of action to collect damages for his or her injuries.  To recover under a negligence theory of liability, the dog bite victim needs to prove:

  1. that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care;
  2. that the defendant breached such duty through negligence; and 
  3. that the defendant's negligence was a substantial factor in causing the harm (“causation”) [3].

A person is negligent when he or she fails to act the way a reasonable person would in a similar situation.

Example: Amber owns Noodles the St. Bernard.  Noodles is an aggressive dog who often bites strangers.  Amber has a trampoline in her backyard.  Amber knows that the neighborhood children frequently climb over her fence to jump on it even when Amber does not give them permission.  One day, Chuck jumps over Amber's fence to jump on the trampoline.  Noodles attacks Chuck.   

Although Chuck is a trespasser and would not be able to recover under California's dog bite statute, he can still recover damages under a negligence theory of liability.  Amber had prior knowledge of her dog's aggressive nature and that children often trespassed on her property to jump on her trampoline.  Because of this knowledge, she had a duty to lock up Noodles.  Because she failed to lock up her dog, Chuck sustained serious injuries.

Have you or a loved one been bitten by a dog? 

Contact our experienced dog-bite attorneys for a free consultation. 

Call us at (855) JUSTICE 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. 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 Euthanized After It Bites Someone?
  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. Cal.Civ.Code § 3342 (a)
  2. Bauman v. Beaujean, 244 Cal. App. 2d 384, 389 (Ct. App. 1966).
  3. See, e.g., California Civil Jury Instructions ("CACI") 400; See also, Anderson v. Fitness International, LLC (2016) 4 Cal.App.5th 867, 881. 

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