Dog bites are among the most emotionally devastating injuries people suffer. Much of this emotional damage is due to the fact that the vast majority of dog attacks are against children. Children often carry the fear precipitated by the attack into their adult lives and can experience terror at the very sight of a dog. Because dogs are so prevalent in everyday life the effects of a childhood attack can leave a person unable to socialize with friends and family who are dog owners, regardless of the demeanor of their pet.
Dog bites can result in serious injuries to a child, the elderly or the average adult. Dog bites usually result in some degree of scarring and can result in permanent physical deformities. The lengthy physical recovery, multiple plastic surgeries and psychological therapy can take years, and some never fully recover.
California’s dog bite laws are among the toughest in the country. California also has some 850,000 cases of dog attacks every year.
As a result of the large number of dog attacks in California, the Legislature enacted Civil Code Sections 3342 and 3342.5 which state in pertinent part:
Civil Code Section 3342 confers liability on the owner of a dog, even if the dog has never bitten anyone before:
- “(a) 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.”
Civil Code Section 3342.5 (The “menacing dog” Statute) holds a dog owner liable for their failure to protect the public from a dog known to attack humans in the past:
- “(a) The owner of any dog that has bitten a human being shall have the duty to take such reasonable steps as are necessary to remove any danger presented to other persons from bites by the animal.
(b) Whenever a dog has bitten a human being on at least two separate occasions, any person, the district attorney, or city attorney may bring an action against the owner of the animal to determine whether conditions of the treatment or confinement of the dog or other circumstances existing at the time of the bites have been changed so as to remove the danger to other persons presented by the animal. This action shall be brought in the county where a bite occurred. The court, after hearing, may make any order it deems appropriate to prevent the recurrence of such an incident, including, but not limited to, the removal of the animal from the area or its destruction if necessary.
(c) Whenever a dog trained to fight, attack, or kill has bitten a human being, causing substantial physical injury, any person, including the district attorney, or city attorney may bring an action against the owner of the animal to determine whether conditions of the treatment or confinement of the dog or other circumstances existing at the time of the bites have been changed so as to remove the danger to other persons presented by the animal. This action shall be brought in the county where a bite occurred. The court, after hearing, may make any order it deems appropriate to prevent the recurrence of such an incident, including, but not limited to, the removal of the animal from the area or its destruction if necessary.”
When a dog attack case is brought to trial, the jury will be instructed to determine the liability of the owner based on the following official jury instruction:
California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI)
463. Dog Bite Statute (Civ. Code, § 3342)—Essential Factual Elements
Victim claims that dog owner’s dog bit them and that dog owner is responsible for that harm.
People who own dogs can be held responsible for the harm from a dog bite, no matter how carefully they guard or restrain their dogs.
To establish their claim, Victim must prove all of the following:
- 1. That dog owner owned a dog;
- 2. That the dog bit Victim while they were in a public place or lawfully on private property;
- 3. That Victim was harmed; and
- 4. That dog owner’s dog was a substantial factor in causing Victim’s harm.
Where appropriate the following language is added to the instructions: [A Victim is deemed to have been lawfully on private property of the owner if they were performing any duty required by law or were on the property at the invitation, express or implied, of the owner.]
If all of the above elements are proven, the owner of the dog is liable for the injuries, both physical and psychological, suffered by the victim. As you can see, establishing the dog owner’s liability for the injuries is not as difficult as you might think.
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