Dog attacks and California state law: Information for victims

Victims of dog attacks may be eligible for monetary awards to help cover the costs associated with the injury.

A recent article in La Jolla Light discussed the need for dog owners to take the responsibility of pet ownership seriously and proactively work to ensure the animal is both physically and mentally healthy. A failure to do so can lead to an unhappy animal.

Stories of dogs kept in less than ideal situations that attack and seriously injure residents of Southern California are not uncommon. Just recently, a woman was mauled and seriously injured by three large dogs under her care. The woman knew the dogs, and was asked to check in on them, along with two others, and feed them while the owner was away. Although the dogs appeared to initially welcome the woman, they began nipping at her feet as she attempted to leave. This behavior escalated and the woman ultimately suffered from a number of bite wounds on her legs and arm. Neighbors were able to assist her and police were called. Police were required to subdue the still aggressive animals with pepper spray and two were tranquilized when animal control arrived.

Dogs and California state law

In similar situations, California state law generally holds owners accountable for their pet’s actions. State law provides that owners are liable to those who are bitten while in a public place or lawfully in a private place. This is true whether the dog was known to be violent or not. The law goes on to define those who are "lawfully in a private place" as:

[Those] on such property in the performance of any duty imposed upon him by the laws of this state or by the laws or postal regulations of the United States, or when he is on such property upon the invitation, express or implied, of the owner.

The law also requires owners of dogs that have a history of aggression take steps to protect the public. If the dog has bitten on two separate occasions, a case may be brought against the owner to determine if the conditions were changed in a manner to protect the public. If it is found that the owner failed to take appropriate action, the court can order a number of actions to prevent future incidents, including the removal of the animal or its destruction.

Importance of legal counsel

It is important for victims to be aware of the fact that owner’s will likely build a defense against these claims. Possible options could include that the victim was trespassing at the time of the attack or that the victim aggravated the animal or otherwise played a part in encouraging the attack. As a result, it is wise for victims to seek the counsel of an experienced dog bite lawyer. This legal professional will review the details of the attack and build a case to help better ensure that your legal rights and any potential remedies are protected.