In general, the owner of a dog that bites someone is strictly liable for the injuries and damages suffered by the person who is bitten by the dog. Factors as to whether the person bitten is in a public place, lawfully in a private place, including the property of the dog owner will come into play as well as to whether the dog is in the course and scope of being used for a governmental agency. California Civil Code section 3342 sets out the distinctions in circumstance.
In California, there is no longer a “free first bite rule” and the owner of the dog that bit someone can be financially responsible even if the dog owner had no prior knowledge of the dog’s vicious propensities or likelihood that it might bite someone. However, what steps a governmental agency, such as Animal Control or the City or District Attorney, will take when there is a dog attack will depend on the dog’s prior history or if it has been trained to be a guard or attack dog.
The Duty Of the Dog Owner:
The owner of the dog that has bitten a human being has the duty to take reasonable steps as are necessary to remove any danger presented to other persons from bites by the animal. When a dog has bitten a human being on at least two separate occasions, any person, the district attorney, or city attorney may bring an action against the owner of the animal to determine whether conditions of the treatment or confinement of the dog or other circumstances existing at the time of the bites have been changed so as to remove the danger to other persons presented by the animal. The proceedings will be brought in the county where the bite occurred. The court, after hearing, may make any order it deems appropriate to prevent further incidents, including but not limited to, the removal of the animal from the area or its destruction if necessary. California Civil Code section 3342.5 et seq.
A dog used by any state, county, city, or city and county law enforcement agency will not be quarantined after biting a person if the bite occurred while the dog was being used for any law enforcement purpose. The law enforcement agency is required to make the dog available for examination. The law enforcement agency is required to notify the local health officer if the dog exhibits any abnormal behavior. California Health and Safety Code § 121685.
Possible Criminal Penalties:
If a person owning or having custody or control of an animal knows, or has reason to know, that the animal bit another person, he or she shall, as soon as is practicable, but no later than 48 hours thereafter, provide the person who was bit by the dog with his or her name, address, telephone number, and the name and license tag number of the animal who bit the other person. Typically, a dog is required by law to be vaccinated against rabies. The person owning or having custody or control of the animal shall, within 48 hours of the bite, provide the other person with information regarding the status of the animal’s vaccinations. For purposes of this section, it is necessary for the skin of the person to be broken or punctured by the animal for the contact to be classified as a bite. Violators of this statute are subject to a fine. California Penal Code § 398
If a person owning or having custody or control of an animal, knowing its mischievous or dangerous propensities, allows it to roam free or keeps it without ordinary care, and the animal, while at large or while not kept with ordinary care, kills any human being who has taken precautions that the circumstances permitted, the dog owner or person having custody or control of the dog or animal is guilty of a felony. The dog will also be destroyed. If the dog causes serious bodily injury to the person but does not kill them, then the dog owner or person having custody or control of the dog or animal is guilty of a misdemeanor or felony depending on the facts and circumstances. The dog may also be destroyed. It will be up to the discretion of the court. California Penal Code § 399
A person owning or having custody or control of a dog trained to fight, fails to use reasonable care and the dog bites a human being, on two separate occasions or on one occasion causing substantial physical injury that person may be found to be guilty of a felony or a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years, or in a county jail not to exceed one year, or by a fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment, if, as a result of that person’s failure to exercise ordinary care. However, no person shall be criminally liable under this section, however, unless he or she knew or reasonably should have known of the vicious or dangerous nature of the dog, or if the victim failed to take all the precautions that a reasonable person would ordinarily take in the same situation.
The court, after hearing, may make any order it deems appropriate to prevent the recurrence of such an incident, including, but not limited to, the removal of the animal from the area or its destruction if necessary.
This section of the law may not be applicable in instances where the bite or bites were inflicted upon a trespasser, upon a person who has provoked the dog or contributed to his or her own injuries, or by a dog used in military or police work if the bite or bites occurred while the dog was actually performing in that capacity. As used in this subdivision, “provocation” includes, but is not limited to, situations where a dog held on a leash by its owner or custodian reacts in a protective manner to a person or persons who approach the owner or custodian in a threatening manner.
This section of the law will not apply to a veterinarian or an on-duty animal control officer while in the performance of his or her duties, or to a peace officer. California Penal Code § 399.5.
If you, your child or a loved one has been bitten or attacked by a dog or vicious animal:
Contact the Law Office of Frederick S. Schwartz for a free, no obligation, confidential consultation with the attorney.