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Liability for Injuries Caused by Domesticated Animals: Understanding California Law

Domesticated animals enrich our lives in many ways, but unfortunately, they can also cause accidents, injuries, and property damage. Dog bites alone injure more than 4.7 million people every year, and thousands of other injuries are caused by horseback riding and livestock handling.

When animal injuries occur, the victim may be able to recover damages from the animal’s owner or the owner of the property where the injury occurred. Different liability rules are applied for different types of animal injuries, however. It’s important for victims to understand these rules before filing charges, but it’s also important for animal owners to understand them so that they can prevent liability for future injuries.

This article provides an overview of the laws relating to animal injuries in California. It’s not meant as a subsitute for legal advice, however, so contact a California personal injury attorney if you have additional questions or would like to discuss your case.

The Negligence Standard

Most domesticated animals are presumed to be tame, and their owners are liable for injuries and other damages only if they acted negligently in failing to prevent foreseeable harm.

Negligence is a legal standard that imposes a duty of care on animal owners to take reasonable precautions to prevent their animals from injuring other people. Because dogs have a tendency to chase and jump on people, for example, their owners may have a duty to keep them leashed or fenced, especially in urban and suburban neighborhoods. The duty of care only extends to foreseeable injuries, however, so animal owners can’t be held liable for freak accidents simply because their animals were somehow involved.

Strict Liability for Dangerous Domesticated Animals and Captive Wild Animals

Animal owners must take extra precautions when caring for domesticated animals that are abnormally vicious or dangerous. Once  they become aware of their animals’ violent or otherwise dangerous behavior, strict liability applies. This means they can be held liable for any injuries that the animal causes, even if they exercised reasonable care in attempting to prevent such harm. Strict liability also applies to the owners of wild animals, which are considered dangerous by nature.

California’a Dog Bite Statute

Under California’s Dog Bite Statute, dog owners are strictly liable for dog bite injuries, even if they had no prior knowledge of the animal’s vicious tendencies. Leash ordinances may also impose strict liability on dog owners who allow their dogs to roam freely.

The Assumption of Risk Defense

Animal owners may be able to avoid negligence liability for injuries caused by their animals if they can show that the victim was aware of and assumed the risk of injury. A person taking horseback riding lessons, for example, assumes the risks of this activity and can’t sue the horse’s owner for injuries typically associated with riding. Although the assumption of risk often provides a defense in animal injury cases, it’s important to note that it’s not a valid defense to strict liability claims, such as those brought under California’s dog bite statute.

Premises Liability

The responsibility for injuries caused by domesticated animals usually falls on their owners, but in some cases it may also fall on the owner of the property where the injury occurred. Landlords may be held liable for injuries caused by their tenants’ pets, for example, but only if they’re aware that the animals are dangerous or vicious and take no steps to prevent injury. Property owners may also be found negligently liable for injuries caused by animals belonging to their guests.

Conclusion: Understand Your Rights and Responsibilities

It’s important to understand your legal rights and responsibilities if you own animals that could injure other people or if you’ve been injured by an animal belonging to someone else. If you have questions about California laws relating to animal injuries, contact an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss your case.

 

 

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