Vicious history not a prerequisite for dog bite liability in California

"Man's Best Friend" is a title befitting of dogs. A canine is a companion that can love its owner unconditionally, and many people even treat a domesticated dog as a member of the family. This is entirely natural, but residents of Los Angeles must remember that pet ownership comes with both responsibility and liability as well.

Due to their job description, U.S. Postal Service workers are a subset of the public that is keenly aware of the fact that even domesticated dogs are still prone to attack. According to the Postal Service, the prevalence of dog attacks in Los Angeles and Orange counties combined make the area the "Dog Bite Capital of the Nation." It was a title given in 2013 and holds true for 2014 as well.

A total of 309 letter carriers can say that they were on the receiving end of a canine attack during 2013 in those two counties alone. As for individual city designations, Los Angeles remains at the top of the list for annual dog bites on postal workers. In the years 2012 and 2013 there were over 130 total dog bites reported.

State Farm Insurance backs this conclusion, taking into account all attacks and not just those against letter carriers. Out of all 50 states, the insurance provider found that California was the worst state in 2013 for dog bite injuries. The 449 claims with a total payout of $14.7 million were the proof -- and that was just one insurer.

What does the California dog bite injury liability law look like?

It is California Civil Code Section 3342 that provides the most succinct answer to the question above, laying out the state statutory liability for dog owners. After a dog bite injury, victims may recover compensation from the dog's owner for any damages related to the attack. The important points to remember about the law are that:

  • It is based on strict liability: A victim does not have to prove carelessness or negligence. For example, a victim is not required to prove that the fence was too short, the tether was too weak or that the dog was improperly trained.
  • It covers both public and private property: If the injury occurs in a public place or when a victim is lawfully in a private place, recovery is possible. Lawfully is defined as an individual that is on the premises either by express invitation, implied invitation or by law, like the letter carriers mentioned above.
  • It does not require proof of a vicious history: Some jurisdictions require proof that the dog had previously attacked another or that the owner knew or should have known that the dog was in fact vicious. No such proof is required in California.
  • Breed is irrelevant: Some dog breeds have been deemed more dangerous than others, like the pit bull and Rottweiler that were named in Insurance Business America's top five. Insurers may even require higher premiums or exclude coverage entirely for these breeds, but this is not a factor under this law.
  • There are some limitations: Under certain circumstances an injured person may be barred from recovery when a dog is being used in the course of military or police action.

A dog bite can be physically, financially and emotionally damaging to those that suffer injury in an attack. Compensation cannot undo the harm, but it can address a victim's needs moving forward. A Los Angeles dog bite injury attorney can help victims obtain the maximum compensation that they may be eligible to receive.

Our founding attorney, Scott J. Corwin, has more than 25 years of experience in representing dog bite victims in the Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange, San Diego, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties and throughout the state of California.