Dog Bite Laws in California

In California 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. The owner of the dog is liable even if the dog bites on the owner's property. It does not matter if the owner new the dog was vicious or not. A person is considered to be lawfully upon the private property when he is on the property in the performance of any duty imposed upon him by the laws of the State of California or by the laws or postal regulations of the United States, and also when the person on the private property on invitation from the property owner, the invitation could be expressed or implied. Someone breaking into a private home and bitten by a dog would not have a cause of action.

If your dog rushes out and bites someone knocking on your door and bites someone that is there for the purpose of converting you to their religion or to sell you a subscription to a nonexistent magazine, then they would have a cause of action, because of implied inviation. If you happen to have a fence that is locked or just closed and with a sign advising that no one is invited implied or expressly then you are unlikely to be liable, but exceptions to this rule also apply. Under the California law if you are bitten where you have a right to be, you automatically win on liability, and it is only a matter of proving damages. If you are bitten after ignoring a sign that says noone no invitation is made to enter my property expressly or impliedly then a different standard applies. The standard is one of negligence, was the owner's conduct reasonable.

Training an attack dog to attack any human being upon entering the property is probably not reasonable. There is also the mail man exception, the mail man has to drop off the owner's mail and if bitten would have a lawsuit against the dog owner, regardless of whether there is a sign or not. The best way to avoid liability if you own a dog might be to put up a sign that says, one that says there is no implied invitation to this property, keep out, all others in consideration for entering this property you assume the risk of getting bitten by a dog. It would not eliminate the risk of liability for a dog biting a human being, especially if it is at night and there is no light on the sign, but otherwise if the sign can be read, it would help minimize or eliminate the liability. If you happen to be the victim, it is unlikely that you had fair warning and that you were bitten while breaking into someone's home. A dog bite or dog attack is a special kind of personal injury claim.

It is a type of claim that is not evaluated by a computer. The type of damages that are pursued are often for pain, suffering, emotional distress, disfigurement, loss or earnings, reasonable and necessary medical expenses, and future medical treatment. If the dog attack while the victim was doing something illegal, it is unlikely that a lawsuit can be maintained. A person cannot bring a lawsuit when a bite occurs if the dog is a military dog or police dog and the person bitten was annoying, harassing, or provoking the dog and the dog was defending itself. A person cannot bring a lawsuit against a military dog or police dog if the dog was assisting an employee of the agency in apprehension or holding of a suspect where the employee has reasonable suspicion of the suspect's involvement in criminal activity.

There is no real clear line as to what reasonable suspicion means. No lawsuits are permitted when the military or dog is assisting an employee of the agency in investigation of a crime or possible crime, in the execution of a warrant, and in the defense of a peace officer or another person. If the person bitten by a military or police dog is not a party to, nor a participant in, nor suspected to be a party to or a participant in, the act or acts that prompted the use of the dog in the military or police work, is allowed to bring a lawsuit. It is not unusual for passerbys or bystanders to get bitten by a poorly trained dog. For the police and military dog exception to apply the agency must also have adopted a written policy on the necessary and appropriate use of a dog for the type of work the dog is to do. If a dog bites a human being, the owner of the dog is required to take steps to remove the danger of a bite from the same dog on another person.

If the dog has bitten twice, any person, the DA, or city attorney can bring an action in court t6 determine if the confinement and treatment of the dog is sufficient to keep it out of danger to other persons. The court has the power, after hearing, to order that remove the dog fro the are where it is confined, or to destroy it if necessary. A different standard applies when the dog has been trained to fight. If the dog has been trained to fight only one bite is required for any person, the district attorney, or city attorney to bring an action in court to determine if the dog's confinement is sufficient to keep the dog from biting another human being.

The court after hearing, has the power to prevent the reoccurence of a bite, by removal of the dog from the area or destruction if necessary. In California there are no free bites. If the dog bites a human being, there is liability for personal injury, unless there some sort of exception such as a police dog or military dog exception.

Arnold Hernandez is an attorney individuals in employment law, car accidents, dog bite claims, and truck accidents primarily in the Cities of San Marcos, Escondido, Vista, Oceanside and throughout Southern California. Visit his website at

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