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New Law Limits Dog Bite Liability for Cities, Not Dog Owners

On Monday, Governor Brown signed AB 265 into law in an effort to make it more attractive for California cities and towns to set up off-leash dog parks by limiting their liability for any injuries caused by dog bites. While it is essential to make sure that people who are seriously injured by dogs have access to fair compensation for their injuries and financial losses, the proposal may not seriously threaten that objective.

Dogs are a fact of life. People have been living with domesticated dogs for thousands of years, and it’s unlikely that will end anytime soon. But dog bites, too, are an omnipresent danger. But how can one balance the needs of dogs and dog owners against the danger of serious injuries from bites?

To reduce the danger, dog parks might be a pretty good start. First, it is widely accepted that well-trained, well-socialized dogs are much less likely to bite, and a big part of that process involves making sure dogs get plenty of exercise and getting them used to being around strangers and other dogs. Dog parks provide opportunities for those things to happen.

Attractive, well-maintained dog parks could also have an impact on the number of dogs out on the streets being walked. If more owners take their animals to the parks, fewer people will find themselves confronted by strange dogs on any given day, which could mean fewer opportunities for dogs to bite.

Under the new law, cities and towns would not be legally responsible for dog bites that aren’t caused by negligence in the operation of the parks. Dog owners, however, would still be financially responsible for any injuries their dogs inflict. Essentially, the same rules would apply to such cases as already apply when someone is bitten by a dog being walked on a public sidewalk.

Ultimately, it all comes down to responsibility. Dog owners must train and socialize their dogs, and they must protect others from potentially serious injuries. Adults should always take care around unknown dogs, and they should teach their children how to safely interact with dogs.

If we work together, responsible dog owners and dog bite victims can and must find a way to reduce dog bite injuries. Dog parks may be a way to do that -- only time will tell.

Source: Los Angeles Times Opinion L.A., "Making it easier to have a public dog park in California," Carla Hall, Aug. 13, 2013

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