California has a reputation as a plaintiff-friendly state when it comes to personal injury lawsuits, and California dog bite law is no exception to this general rule. Unlike some states, California has enacted a rather comprehensive set of dog bite laws. Municipal laws also apply in certain locations.
California is considered a “strict liability” dog bite state, meaning that with certain exceptions, dog owners essentially function as insurers for any personal injury caused by their dog. In some states, a dog owner is entitled to “one free bite” – he will not be held liable for an injury caused by his dog as long as he had no reason to believe that his dog was dangerous. In California, however, a dog bite victim usually does not need to prove that the owner knew or should have known that the dog was dangerous in order to win a lawsuit against him.
Exceptions to Strict Liability
There are a couple of loopholes in California strict liability dog bite law that can work against a victim in a dog bite lawsuit, including:
- The defendant is not the owner of the dog. If you sue a dog-sitter, for example, you will have to prove that the defendant was at fault to win – that he failed to take reasonable safety precautions, for example, or that he intentionally “sicced” the dog on you.
- The injury you suffered was not a bite – the dog jumped up on you and caused you to fall off a porch, for example. In this case also you will have to prove that the dog owner was negligent in some way.
Negligence Per Se
If strict liability does not apply to your case, you can still win the case if you can show that the dog owner violated a city or state law with respect to the dog, and that the violation caused your injury. This might be the case, for example, if the dog owner violated a city ordinance that requires a dog be leashed when off its owner’s property, if you were injured by an unleashed dog while it was off its owner’s property.
Statute of Limitations
Generally speaking, the California statute of limitations requires you to file a lawsuit over a dog attack within two years of the date of the injury. If you miss this deadline, the judge will probably throw your case out of court without even considering it. Likewise, the defendant will not be motivated to settle with you, because he will know that he has a very limited risk.
Certain exceptions exist to the statute of limitations deadline – for example, a dog attack might have caused you an injury (such as brain damage) that you could not have reasonably been expected to know about until later. In this case the judge might rule that the two-year period began running on the date that you knew or should have known about the injury.
If the dog owner is convicted of a crime (for intentionally sending the dog after you, for example), the California Constitution requires the dog owner to pay restitution to the victim. In this case you will not even need to file a lawsuit, as long as the amount of restitution is not significantly less that a civil judgment would have awarded.
If you are in a need of a dog bite lawyer in California, get help now.