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That Bites! Understanding California’s Unique Dog Bite Statutes

As a personal injury law firm, we see our share of dog bite victims who are eager to learn their rights and hold the other party responsible for their injuries. We are also proud to serve in a jurisdiction that has taken a hardline, strict liability approach to dog bite accidents. If you were recently bitten or attacked by a dog, the following article details California’s approach the problem. If, after reviewing the laws, you believe you could have a case against the dog owner or handler responsible for your injuries, we encourage you to contact us today. Remember, dog bites, as with all personal injuries, carry a two-year statute of limitations so do not delay if your injury occurred a number of months ago.

I’ve heard of “scienter.” What does this term mean, and is it applicable to my case?

The term “scienter” refers to an old common law requirement that a defendant must have been aware of their dog’s propensity for ferocity in order to face liability. Practically speaking, this means that the dog either had to have bitten someone before or was bred for violence. Many states still maintain a scienter requirement in their dog bite statutes, thereby allowing owners or handlers of a first-time offender the opportunity to escape liability because the owner had no reason to know the dog was dangerous. This requirement is also known as the “one-bite rule.”

Fortunately, California has led the way in eliminating the scienter requirement and does not hold any statute requiring knowledge on the part of the dog owner or handler that the dog has a propensity for violence. Even if the dog that attacked you had never bitten another person or animal in the past, the owner may still face liability.

I was bitten while standing in my own front yard. Can I recover?

Most likely. Under the laws, a dog owner can face liability if the dog attacked the victim either on the victim’s property or on public property. A victim may also be able to recover if attacked on the dog’s property, however this is subject to further inquiry. For example, if the bite victim wandered onto the dog’s property uninvited, he will be classified as a trespasser and likely cannot recover.

Are there any other defense to liability that could apply to my case?

While California maintains a strict liability dog bite policy, the dog owner may still raise defenses to escape liability. First, as mentioned above, if the victim is unlawfully on the dog owner’s property, he cannot recover for any bites occurring thereon. Second, if the dog owner can prove beyond a preponderance of the evidence (i.e., it is more likely than not) that the victim was teasing or provoking the animal prior to attack, the owner will not be liable to the victim. Lastly, victims injured by police dogs working in the line of duty pursuant to a valid arrest will not be able to receive compensation for their injuries.

Contact Nelson C. Barry for more information about your dog bite case

Every injury case hinges on its own set of facts. The best course of action is to meet with Nelson C. Barry today to further review your likelihood of success. For more information, call: (415) 587-0550.


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