Dog Bite Injuries – Owner’s Liability
Other Theories of Dog Bite Liability
California’s Dog Bite Statute may not apply to your dog bite case. The statute may not be available because the person responsible for your dog bite injuries is not the dog’s owner. Or, possibly, the dog’s owner may have a valid defense under the Dog Bite Statute. In both of these instances, your dog bite lawyer may be able to seek compensation on your behalf under one or more other theories of liability. These other liability theories are also useful when the victim’s injuries are not the result of an actual dog bite, as required under the Dog Bite Statute.
Following is a discussion of several additional theories of liability your dog bite lawyer may consider pursuing in support of your claim. In order to protect your rights and increase the chances that you are fully compensated for your injuries, your dog bite lawyer may elect to assert multiple theories in support of your claim.
Common Law Liability based on Prior Knowledge
In order to prove the dog owner’s (or keeper’s) liability for your dog bite injuries based on the common law rule, your dog bite lawyer must establish that (a) the dog had dangerous tendencies and (b) the owner knew or should have known of the dog’s propensities. In essence, your dog bite lawyer must prove that the dog owner knew or should have known that his dog had a propensity to bite people. Unlike the Dog Bite Statute, the common law rule applies not just to dog bites, but to all injuries that are the result of a dog attack. It also imposes liability not just on the dog’s owner but also on a dog’s keeper.
Both the dog’s propensity to bite and his owner’s knowledge of such propensity can be inferred based on certain types of evidence. Following is a list of some of the more common types of evidence that have been used to establish notice that a dog had a propensity to bite:
- the dog bites without provocation
- the size and breed of the dog
- prior complaints to the owner about the dog
- the dog’s tendency to bark or lunge at people
- the dog’s training or role as guard dog
- a “Beware of Dog” sign posted by the owner
- the dog is kept muzzled around people
- frequent use of a cage or chains to restrain the dog
- past attacks by the dog
- prior verbal warnings by the owner about the dog
- prior statements by the owner about the dog’s character or behavior
While the common law rule may appear to have been superseded by the Dog Bite Statute with respect to claims against the dog’s owner for dog bite injuries, there may be situations in which recovery from a dog owner will be available under the common law rule, but not under the Dog Bite Statute. For example, a dog bite victim who is deemed a trespasser will be barred from recovering damages under the statute, but may still have a claim under common law. Similarly, a victim who is subject to the Veterinarian’s Rule will be precluded from making a claim under the statute, but under limited circumstances may be able to seek damages against the owner under common law. (See below).
Even if a dog has shown no vicious propensities and has violated no dog control laws, your dog bite lawyer may be able to establish dog bite liability based on a traditional negligence theory. A dog owner (or any other person) who is unreasonably careless in handling or controlling a dog may be liable if the dog injures someone and a reasonable person would have foreseen the possibility of injury. Examples of negligence include:
- dog bite injuries to a two month old baby placed on the same bed as the dog
- injuries caused by a dog that was improperly trained in Schutzhund (a sport for dogs that includes protection training)
Negligence per Se
Many cities and towns have local dog control laws, such as leash laws or laws which prohibit a dog from trespassing. Some cities also have more stringent control laws relating to certain breeds. For example, Santa Monica has a local law requiring that Pit Bulls be muzzled when on public property. A local ordinance in Beverly Hills prohibits someone from walking more than four dogs on a public street at one time, even if they are leashed. If the victim’s dog bite injuries are the result of a violation of one of these dog control laws, then the dog’s owner (or keeper) will be deemed negligent per se and will incur dog bite liability for the victim’s injuries.
Under a claim for negligent entrustment, a dog bite lawyer would seek to establish the liability of a parent for injuries caused by a dog while left in the care of a child. The dog bite lawyer would have to prove that the parents’ entrustment of the dog to their child’s custody was unreasonable because the child lacked the judgment or experience to control the dog. This claim is useful if the child himself might be immune to a dog bite liability claim or is not covered by a liability insurance policy.
Dog Bite Injuries Caused by Battery
Most dog bite attacks are the result of someone’s negligence or carelessness. However, if the dog’s owner commanded or directed the dog to attack the victim, the dog’s owner will have committed an intentional battery. Intentional acts are not covered by liability insurance in California. For strategic reasons, an experienced dog bite lawyer is therefore unlikely to ever make a claim for damages based on a battery.
Some cities and counties have their own local laws that impose liability for dog attacks. In some instance, the scope of the law may be even more broad than the state statute. The Beverly Hills Municipal Code, for example, imposes strict liability on both dog owners and certain non-owners and applies to any injury, not just dog bites. It also covers property damage and not just personal injuries.
If you have been injured in a dog attack, you should seek the counsel of a knowledgeable dog bite attorney. An experienced dog bite lawyer will have skill to guide your claim through the legal system and to help you obtain all of the damages to which you are entitled.