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Commonly Asked Legal Questions About Dog Attacks

In California, the law regarding dog bites can be confusing. Find out which standards might apply.

Dog bites can happen anytime, anywhere — and often without warning. When you’re left with horrific injuries and significant medical expenses in the wake of a dog attack, you need to understand your legal rights.

What’s the general rule in California?

California law recognizes that dogs are unpredictable animals. Even a seemingly docile dog can attack out of the blue.

In the interest of public safety, the law places near-absolute responsibility on dog owners for bites, regardless of whether the dog showed any aggression in the past. Dog owners are legally liable for attacks that occur on their own property or somebody else’s.

This standard — called strict liability — makes it far easier for victims to get the compensation they deserve. It means you won’t have to prove any fault on the part of the owner. Nor will you have to establish a history of vicious behavior on the part of the dog.

Even though you don’t have to show that the owner was at fault, the owner may nonetheless have a defense if he or she can prove that you invited the injury — for example, by provoking the dog, teasing it or continuing to pet it after being warned about the danger.

Are there any exceptions to the general rule?

There are some exceptions to strict liability. For example, it generally doesn’t protect:

  • Veterinarians, dog groomers and others who work with dogs for a living
  • Anyone who isn’t lawfully on the property (trespassers)

However, these people may still have a legal claim against a dog owner if the dog showed aggressive tendencies in the past. A negligence standard (rather than strict liability) would apply.

Who is the owner? Who else might be responsible?

There are several ways to determine ownership — for example, by:

  • Checking the dog license or registration
  • Examining the purchase or adoption paperwork
  • Looking at vaccination records and other veterinarian documentation
  • Determining who is responsible for the dog’s care on a day-to-day basis

But what if somebody other than the owner — such as a dog walker — was handling the animal when it attacked? In these situations, strict liability still applies to the dog’s owner, but not to the third-party handler. The law recognizes that third parties can’t guarantee the safety of dogs that don’t belong to them.

However, third parties may still be liable if their negligence contributed to the attack. For example, imagine that a dog walker is aware of the animal’s aggressive tendencies toward children. If the walker nonetheless fails to restrain the dog in the presence of children, he or she may be legally responsible for any resulting injuries.

What’s the next step?

After a dog attack, you should always seek help from a qualified personal injury lawyer. There are strict deadlines for filing claims. An attorney can help you pursue accountability and compensation.

Talk To An Attorney About Your Legal Needs

Contact our office to discuss your injury claim. We offer a free initial consultation where you can get honest answers to your questions and learn more about your legal options. You can reach us by phone at 916-357-6767 or send us an email to schedule an appointment.

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