If you are reading this article, you may have been attacked or bitten by a dog. After the initial shock and trauma wore off, you may have asked, who is responsible for what just happened to me and what happens next?
Fortunately, California law imposes what is referred to as “strict liability” on dog owners. This means a dog owner is responsible for injuries caused by their dog regardless of the circumstances. Unlike many states, California does not have what is referred to as a “one bite rule,” which generally refers to the theory that a dog must have attacked at least one person before an owner can be held responsible for a subsequent attack.
California’s strict liability laws allow a dog attack victim to hold the dog owner responsible without being required to show the dog is otherwise dangerous, had previously attacked another person, or other circumstances showing the owner was negligent. The dog owner is responsible simply because the attack occurred.
There are, however, exceptions to California’s strict liability laws. A dog owner will not be held strictly liable when an individual is either found to have provoked the dog or is a trespasser on the owner’s property. An owner will also likely not be held responsible if the dog was acting in defense of the owner.
To illustrate how these laws are applied, take the following real-world example. Jane Doe is walking down the sidewalk and sees the cutest little chihuahua and his owner, John Smith, playing in John’s driveway. When the dog trots out to the sidewalk, Jane bends down to pat him on the head. Unexpectedly, the chihuahua then jumps up and bites Jane on the hand, causing Jane to need stitches.
After getting her hand stitched up, Jane might wonder, is John responsible for these medical bills? I bent down to pet the dog, so maybe I am to blame? Under California’s strict liability laws, John will be held responsible because he is the owner of the chihuahua. Hopefully for Jane, John will have homeowners’ or renters’ insurance, and with the help of an experienced attorney, Jane will receive compensation for the injuries she sustained.
Among other things, Jane may be entitled to compensation for her medical expenses, the pain and suffering she endured as a result of the attack, and lost wages for the time she missed from work. If the bite left a scar, Jane may also be entitled to monies for scar revision surgery, or if she elects to forgo surgery, emotional distress damages for the permanent scarring left by the attack.
Now, what happens if John is a tenant and does not have any insurance or any ability to compensate Jane for the attack? What can Jane do, or is she simply out of luck? The next option for Jane is to seek compensation from the property owner.
But, are property owners strictly liable like dog owners? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Property owners are not strictly liable for attacks by a tenant’s dog. Under California law, a property owner can usually only be held responsible for an attack by a tenant’s dog if the property owner had actual knowledge of the dog’s dangerous propensities and the property owner had the power to remove the tenant or otherwise prevent the attack from occurring. This is true even if the tenant’s dog escaped and the attack occurred away from the property.
If you have been attacked or otherwise injured by a dog or other animal, contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Corren & Corren for a free consultation.