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Strict Liability and One-Bite Rule in California

California dog bite law strict liability

The Legal Maze of California Dog Bite Law Strict Liability: What You Need to Know

Ever wondered why a single dog bite can lead to a complex legal tussle in California? This intrigue stems from the “California dog bite law strict liability,” a unique legal framework. Under this rule, dog owners bear full responsibility for any harm their pets cause, even if it’s the animal’s first offense. 

No prior history of aggression or bites is necessary to establish the owner’s liability. This concept diverges significantly from the traditional “One-Bite Rule” prevalent in other states, where owners aren’t liable for the first bite, assuming they had no reason to believe their dog was dangerous. 

California’s approach aims to protect the public by placing a heavier burden on dog owners to prevent any incidents. This law reflects a stern stance on pet responsibility and safety, making it essential for dog owners and victims alike to understand its implications.

Quick Summary

Below is an overview of the key points of this blog post article.

  • California’s dog bite law follows strict liability, meaning dog owners are generally responsible for bite-related damages.
  • Strict liability differs from the one-bite rule, which requires prior knowledge of a dog’s aggressive behavior.
  • The negligence standard is another legal approach where victims must prove the owner’s carelessness led to injuries.
  • Important exceptions to strict liability include trespassers, law enforcement animals, and dog owners’ exclusive responsibility.
  • Comparative fault allows dog owners to argue the victim shares some responsibility.
  • A dog bite is defined as any instance where a dog uses its teeth to grasp a person, regardless of skin penetration.
  • California can euthanize dangerous dogs and prohibit owners from getting another dog for three years.
  • The statute of limitations for dog bite claims in California is two years from the date of injury.
  • Compensation for dog bite victims includes lost wages, loss of earning capacity, medical expenses, rehabilitation costs, limb loss, disfigurement, and pain and suffering.
  • In severe cases, punitive damages may be pursued to penalize the dog owner and discourage misconduct.

What is California Dog Bite Law Strict Liability?

California adheres to the principle of “strict liability” in cases of dog bites. This indicates that the person harmed by a dog bite doesn’t have to demonstrate that the dog’s owner was careless to be eligible for compensation for their injuries. 

Simply put, if someone owns a dog and it bites another person, barring certain exceptions, the owner of the dog is generally expected to be responsible for any resulting damages:

  • If the dog had a history of biting someone before
  • If the owner implemented adequate measures to avert dog bites
  • If the owner had any grounds to suspect the dog might be dangerous

In California, strict liability for certain dog bites comes from
California Civil Code 3342.

How is Strict Liability Different From One-Bite Rule in California?

Strict liability differs significantly from the one-bite rule, offering broader opportunities for dog bite victims to receive compensation for their losses. In California, strict liability is applied in dog bite incidents, contrasting with the approach of other states that follow the one-bite rule. 

Under the one-bite rule, a dog owner is only held accountable if they know about their dog’s aggressive behavior. This knowledge often comes from a previous biting incident, which serves as a warning to the owner about their dog’s potential danger. After such an incident, it’s expected that the owner will take preventive measures to protect others. 

If they neglect to do so and the dog bites again, the one-bite rule can make them liable for injuries caused by any further bites.

How is Strict Liability Different From Negligence Standard?

Strict liability stands apart from the negligence standard in dog bite cases. Under the negligence standard, victims must prove that the dog owner’s careless behavior directly led to their injuries to claim compensation. 

This requirement for demonstrating the owner’s negligence makes obtaining compensation more challenging than in strict liability scenarios. Victims need to specifically identify actions or inactions by the dog owner that resulted in their injuries, which can often be a complex task.

What Are the Important Exceptions to the California Dog Bite Law Strict Liability?

While California adheres to the strict liability law for dog bites, both pet owners and those injured in dog attacks need to be aware of some key exceptions. California’s strict liability rules for dog bites do not apply universally, and understanding these exceptions is crucial:


California’s dog bite law imposes strict liability on the dog owner only if the victim was legally present on the property. Trespassers, or individuals who are on the property without an invitation or legal justification, cannot make the dog owner strictly liable under this statute. 

Nonetheless, such individuals may still have the option to file a dog bite lawsuit on the grounds of negligence.

Law Enforcement Animals

Victims who sustain dog bites from military or police dogs cannot pursue strict liability claims against the government. However, there is an exception to this rule, which applies when a dog bites an innocent bystander. In such cases, innocent bystanders are still eligible to seek compensation under California’s strict liability rules.

Dog Owners Only

California’s strict liability law specifically pertains to dog owners. If the individual you are taking legal action against for a dog bite was solely responsible for caring for the dog when the injury occurred, they cannot be subjected to strict liability.

The “Veterinarian’s Rule”

Dog owners who are confronted with a strict liability lawsuit can argue that the victim willingly accepted the possibility of being bitten by a dog. Some professions inherently carry a foreseeable risk of dog bites. These occupations encompass:

  • Veterinarians
  • Kennel workers

Individuals in these positions cannot impose strict liability on dog owners for their injuries since they have willingly accepted the risks associated with their professions. Nevertheless, they retain the option to seek compensation for a dog bite by demonstrating that the owner acted negligently.

Comparative Fault

Dog owners can counter a strict liability claim by asserting that the victim shares some responsibility. California’s comparative fault law diminishes a victim’s compensation by the percentage of fault they contributed to their injuries. 

Dog bite victims may bear partial responsibility if they engage in any of the following actions towards the dog that bit them:

  • Kick
  • Punch
  • Strike
  • Annoy
  • Harass

If your dog bite incident falls into one of the exempted situations mentioned above, you might not have a legitimate claim for damages under a complaint that specifically seeks to establish the animal owner as “strictly liable.” 

Nevertheless, you could still explore the option of filing a claim for financial compensation related to your injuries by asserting that the owner was indeed negligent.

What is Considered a Dog Bite?

A dog bite is characterized as any instance where a dog uses its teeth to grip another person or clamps its jaws around any part of a person’s body. It’s important to note that a dog bite doesn’t have to break the skin to warrant a valid personal injury claim. 

Sometimes, dog bite victims might delay seeking medical care or recording their injuries, assuming that if the skin remains intact, there’s no need for concern. However, it’s crucial to understand that a dog bite can cause harm even without visible skin punctures.

What is California’s Statute of Limitations for Dog-Bite Claims?

Every state has what are known as “statutes of limitations,” which establish strict timeframes for initiating legal proceedings in court. The specific deadline varies depending on the nature of the case, but missing this deadline carries serious consequences. If you file a claim after the expiration of the time limit, the court is highly likely to dismiss your case, unless a rare exception applies.

In California, there isn’t a distinct statute of limitations dedicated to dog-bite lawsuits. Instead, these cases are governed by the state’s statutes of limitations for assault, battery, or personal injury. According to this law, a plaintiff in a civil suit related to a dog bite must commence the case within two years from the date of the injury

It’s worth noting that there are potential extensions to this period in certain situations. However, it’s important to be aware that different deadlines apply if the individual who owns or controls the dog faces criminal charges.

What is the Available Compensation for Victims Under California Dog Bite Law Strict Liability?

As mentioned earlier, dog owners bear financial responsibility for the damages incurred by the victim as a result of a dog bite. In numerous instances, it’s the dog owner’s insurance provider that disburses these funds on behalf of the owner. The compensatory damages that you could potentially receive encompass:

Lost Wages

Victims under California dog bite law strict liability have the right to seek compensation for any income they lost due to the injuries sustained from the dog bite. This includes wages lost during the recovery period or any work missed because of medical appointments or treatments.

Loss of Earning Capacity

In cases where the dog bite results in long-term or permanent injuries that affect the victim’s ability to work or earn a living, compensation may be sought for the diminished earning capacity. This includes the potential reduction in future income due to the injuries.

Medical Expenses

Victims are entitled to compensation for all medical expenses incurred as a direct result of the dog bite, including hospital bills, surgeries, doctor’s visits, medication, and therapy required for physical and emotional recovery.

Rehabilitation Costs

If the injuries necessitate rehabilitation services such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, or psychological counseling, victims can seek compensation to cover these essential recovery expenses.

Loss of the Use of a Limb

When a dog bite leads to the permanent loss or impairment of a limb or extremity, victims can pursue compensation for the physical and emotional hardships associated with this life-altering change.


Victims may be eligible for compensation if the dog bite results in disfigurement or scarring, which can have a profound impact on one’s self-esteem and quality of life.

Apart from compensatory damages, there’s a possibility to receive non-compensatory damages, which are linked to the pain and suffering endured. While money can’t undo the harm caused by a dog bite, obtaining a just settlement offer can assist in covering the costs incurred due to the injuries.

In situations involving severe negligence or deliberate wrongdoing, victims of dog bites have the option to pursue punitive damages. These punitive damages serve the purpose of penalizing the dog owner and discouraging similar misconduct in the future.

Unmatched Proficiency in Dog Bite Cases in California

Navigating the complexities of the California dog bite law strict liability demands knowledge and precision. This area of law, with its firm stance on holding pet owners accountable, can be labyrinthine for both victims and dog owners. Understanding the nuances and intricacies is crucial, whether you’re seeking justice for a bite incident or defending against a strict liability claim. 

This is where the trusted proficiency of Conlogue Law LLP becomes invaluable. At Conlogue Law LLP, our legal prowess in dog bite cases is unmatched. Our team possesses a deep understanding of California’s dog bite laws, ensuring that our clients receive top-notch representation. Whether you’re pursuing a claim or facing liability, our legal experience can guide you through the legal maze with confidence. 

We can also assist you with Premises Liability, Product Liability, and Wrongful Death. Schedule a free consultation with Conlogue Law LLP today, and let our legal acumen work to your advantage.

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