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California Dog Bite Laws

Whether they're chasing tennis balls on the beach or lounging on the couch, dogs are a regular fixture throughout the Golden State. But even man's best friend can sometimes go rogue and bite other people, causing injury or even death. But no matter how surprised you were to see Fifi uncharacteristically lunge at the delivery man and sink her teeth into his ankle, you should know that California dog owners are strictly liable for bite-related injuries caused by their canine companions. However, the owners of dogs that cause non-bite injuries to others are only subject to negligence claims (requiring evidence the owner failed to use reasonable care).

While even the most responsible dog owners are civilly liable for their dogs' bites, criminal charges also may be filed in certain situations. For instance, the failure to provide your contact information to someone who you know was bitten and injured by your dog can result in an infraction. But failing to properly secure a dog either known to be vicious or trained to attack may be charged as a felony if the biting results in serious injury or death.

References to dog bites can be found throughout California's statutes, including the Penal Code. This article focuses on civil liability for dog bites, although a link to the appropriate Penal Code section also is included for your reference.

California Dog Bite Laws: The Basics

Additional details about California's dog bite laws are listed in the table below.

Civil Liability for Dog Bites

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.

Statutory Meaning of "Lawfully Upon Private Property"
  • 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
  • On such property upon the invitation, express or implied, of the owner.
Exceptions to Liability for Dog Bites

Nothing in this section shall authorize the bringing of an action against any governmental agency using a dog in military or police work if the bite(s) occurred while the dog was defending itself from an annoying, harassing, or provoking act, or assisting an employee of the agency in any of the following:

  • In the apprehension or holding of a suspect where the employee has a reasonable suspicion of the suspect's involvement in criminal activity.
  • In the investigation of a crime or possible crime.
  • In the execution of a warrant.
  • In the defense of a peace officer or another person.
Statutory Definition of "Potentially Dangerous Dog"

Any dog which, when unprovoked, on two separate occasions within the prior 36-month period:

  • Engages in any behavior that requires a defensive action by any person to prevent bodily injury when the person and the dog are off the property of the owner or keeper of the dog; or
  • Has killed, seriously bitten, inflicted injury, or otherwise caused injury attacking a domestic animal off the property of the owner or keeper of the dog
Statutory Definition of "Vicious Dog"
  • Any dog which, when unprovoked, in an aggressive manner, inflicts severe injury on or kills a human being; or
  • Any dog previously determined to be and currently listed as a potentially dangerous dog which, after its owner or keeper has been notified of this determination, continues the behavior
Time Limit for Filing Claim

2 years (see California Civil Statute of Limitations for more details)

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

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Get a Legal Review of Your California Dog Bite Situation

If you've been bitten by a dog, the first thing you should do -- after getting the contact information of the owner (if nearby) -- is seek medical attention. Since the owner of a dog that bites you is strictly liable for your injuries, you don't have to prove negligence. Get started on recovering for damages for the dog bite today by having a personal injury attorney in California review your case.

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