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Dog Bites and Personal Injury Claims: Do I Have a Case?

Being bitten by a dog can be a traumatic, painful experience—one that often leads to serious injuries and emotional distress. If a dog has bitten you or a loved one, you may wonder whether you have a personal injury claim.


In this blog, our personal injury attorneys will provide comprehensive information on the subject, focusing on how the legal landscape in California treats personal injury claims related to dog bites or attacks.

Understanding Dog Bite Laws in California

Understanding the specific laws in California surrounding dog bites is vital when evaluating a potential personal injury claim. When you partner with our San Diego dog bite attorneys, you can take comfort in the fact that you will be defended and protected throughout this process.

In California, a “strict liability” statute for dog bites is enforced. This means that owners are liable for damages when their dog bites someone who is lawfully in either a private or public place. It also holds whether the dog has shown any dangerous behavior in the past and whether the owner did anything wrong.


However, some exceptions apply. For example, if the victim had been trespassing on the owner’s private property or if the victim had provoked the dog, the owner might not be held liable for the attack. It’s essential to understand these nuances to determine whether you have a valid case.

California Civil Code Section 3342

This is the primary law in California that governs dog bite cases. According to this law, the owner of a dog is liable for the damages suffered by any person whom the dog attacks while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the dog owner’s property, regardless of the former fierceness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of such wildness.


The law specifies “lawfully in a private place” to eliminate the application of the statute to trespassers who are bitten while trespassing. While it does make clear that the owner’s liability for the attack is not contingent on the dog having previously bitten someone or the owner’s knowledge of their dog having a propensity to bite, the law is less than clear in other areas.

Establishing a Personal Injury Claim

Now, let’s examine the specifics of pursuing a dog bite injury claim in California.


To win a dog bite injury lawsuit, you must prove two things:


  • The defendant is the dog’s owner.
  • You were injured by a bite while either in a public place or lawfully in a private place.


You do not need to prove that the owner did anything wrong or that the dog had bitten anyone before.

Identifying the Dog’s Owner

Generally speaking, figuring out who the dog’s “owner” is, at least for filing a claim, is pretty simple. However, determining liability can be more complex in some situations.


For example, if the dog was in the care of a dog walker or at a kennel at the time of the injury, determining liability can require investigation. For example, talking to the dog walker and finding out whose insurance policy might cover you if a dog bites you when walked by a hired caretaker.


Or, if a minor owns the dog—say, where the dog that attacked you belonged to a 17-year-old—the minor’s parents may be held responsible for your injury expenses. And in some rather unusual cases, a corporation may actually be considered the “owner” of the dog. For example, a security firm that uses a guard dog to patrol a commercial premises may be held responsible for the dog’s actions.

Proving You Were Lawfully on the Premises

To establish a dog owner’s liability for a dog bite under California law, you must prove the following:


  • A dog attacked and bit you.
  • The defendant is the owner of the dog.
  • The accident happened on a public street or place or while the victim was lawfully in a private place (including the dog owner’s property).

Or, if the accident happened while the victim was unlawfully on the dog owner’s private property (for example, while trespassing), you must prove that a law enforcement agency was not using the dog at the time of the accident.

What Damages Can You Claim?

Once you have established a valid personal injury claim, you may be entitled to various types of damages. These can include:


  • Medical expenses: This includes the cost of immediate medical care, ongoing treatment, and any future medical expenses related to the injury.
  • Lost wages: If you had to miss work due to your injuries, you could claim compensation for lost wages.
  • Pain and suffering: This refers to the physical pain and emotional distress caused by the dog bite. It can also include compensation for any fear or anxiety related to dogs that you may develop due to the incident.
  • Property damage: If your personal property (such as clothing or a cell phone) was damaged in the incident, you could claim compensation for its repair or replacement.

Calculating these damages can be complex, and it’s often beneficial to consult with a personal injury attorney to ensure adequate compensation.

What Is the Statute of Limitations for Dog Bite Claims in California?

The statute of limitations for personal injury claims, such as dog bite attacks, is two years from the date of the injury. In other words, you have two years to file a lawsuit against the dog owner. Failing to file a claim within this period waives your right to compensation.


There are exceptions to this rule, however. If a dog attacks a minor, a lawsuit must be filed within two years of the child’s 18th birthday. However, the circumstances in which these exceptions apply are rare, so it’s always better to get advice from an attorney immediately.

Represent Yourself Properly With Legal Assistance From HHJ Trial Attorneys

Dog bite cases in California are intricate, making them especially difficult for anyone considering a personal injury claim.


Understanding the strict liability laws in the state, determining if the claim is valid, and understanding what damages you can seek will allow you to work your way through the process with clarity.


Remember, no two dog bite cases are the same. To best determine what to do in your situation, always consult with an experienced personal injury attorney. Contact our experienced personal injury attorneys today for a free consultation.




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