Approximately 4.5 million dog bites occur each year in the United States according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For those who have fallen victim to dog bites, you will be glad to know California is a strict liability state, which is also known as “ the dog bite statute.” Under strict liability the owner of a dog is 100 percent liable for any injuries the dog may inflict on the victim. This applies so long as the victim was not provoking the dog, trespassing, attacked by an employer’s dog, or rendering paid services that involve a dog. Strict liability does not require the injured party to prove the owner’s negligence in failing to properly supervise its dog. This means that in California there is no such thing as a “free bite.” As outlined by California Civil Code Section 3342:
“The owner of any dog is liable for the damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness. A person is lawfully upon the private property of such owner within the meaning of this section when he is on such property in the performance of any duty imposed upon him by the laws of this state or by the laws or postal regulations of the United States, or when he is on such property upon the invitation, express or implied, of the owner.”
Keep in mind, strict liability applies only to the owner of the dog. If you were attacked by a dog that at the time was under the care of a “keeper” or “handler” they also may be liable for your injuries. If there is proof suggesting the “keeper” or “handler” had knowledge of prior dog bites or of the dog’s vicious propensities then liability can be placed on the “keeper” or “handler” for lack of vigilant care of such dog.
It is also important to note that ownership begins immediately after the dog is delivered to its owner. Therefore, it is imperative for dog owners to purchase homeowners insurance or renters insurance immediately after obtaining ownership of a dog. Such insurance policy must include coverage for dog accidents caused by the dog. There are instances when the insurance policy will cover dog bites, but it may exclude certain breeds of dogs, limit the number of times it will pay for dog bite claims or limit the amount of money paid on dog bite claims presented. If you are a homeowner, be sure to check your insurance policy for just what is covered for incidents involving your dog.
It is typically recommended for those who own large breeds of dogs to purchase minimum insurance coverage of $300,000.00. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a list which can be used as a guideline to determine if the dog is known to have vicious propensities. If the breed of dog does not fall under the list of dogs with a propensity to bite, then minimum insurance limits of $100,000.00 is suggested. Coverage of less than $100,000.00 may result in the owner being responsible for out-of-pocket additional money if the injury caused by the dog is worth more than $100,000.00 in damages to any one victim. Medical Payments coverage may also be a smart way to cover a dog bite that may not have required extensive medical care by the victim. Be sure to ask your insurance agent about Medical Payments coverage when purchasing insurance.
The purpose of the dog bite statute is to prevent dogs from being a hazard to the community as per Davis v. Glaschler (1992) 11 Cal.App.4th 1392, 1399. As a dog owner you must be vigilant with the dog’s behavior. Always take precautions to ensure that no one is attacked by your dog. Remember there are no “free bites” in California.
If you, a loved one, or friend were attacked by a dog, call the Law Offices of Vann H. Slatter for a free consultation to discuss your case.