Who Is REALLY Responsible for a Dog Bite?

Strict Liability vs. the One-Bite Rule

In California, dog owners have “strict liability” for their dog’s behavior. This means that they can be held accountable for a dog bite, even if their dog has never bitten anyone before. Some states observe the “one-bite rule,” which means owners may not be held responsible unless they knew or should have known about the animal’s “dangerous or vicious propensities.” Ultimately, these differences come down to what the plaintiff (you, if you’re the one filing suit) will have to prove in court.

In California, or any other strict liability state, you will have to prove:

  • Your injuries or losses were caused by a dog bite
  • You were bitten in a public place, or while lawfully in a private space (like the dog owner’s home)
  • You did not provoke the dog

In one-bite states, you would have to prove all of the above AND show the owner had reason to know their dog was aggressive. This can be determined by circumstantial evidence, including:

  • Previous bites
  • The dog’s breed
  • The dog’s condition at the time of the bite
  • Whether or not the dog was used for protection
  • How the dog was trained
  • Neighbors’ experience with the dog
  • Warnings from the owner
  • How the dog was restrained

Regardless of their stance, most states have special rules for a dog wandering “at large,” or so-called “dangerous or vicious dogs.”

What Happens to the Owner?

If you file a dog bite lawsuit, the dog’s owner will become the defendant. When you win your case, they will be required to compensate you for damages, and thus cover the cost of:

  • Bite treatment
  • Rehabilitative care
  • Loss of income while healing from the bite
  • Diminished earning potential if the bite is severe
  • Emotional trauma
  • Pain and suffering

If the dog owner’s behavior was especially egregious, the court may award you punitive damages, which serve to punish the defendant and prevent similar events from occurring in the future.

What Happens to the Dog?

In Sacramento, dog bites must be reported to the county’s Department of Animal Care and Regulation. From there, the dog will be investigated. Sometimes, this means the animal will be quarantined for 10 days in a pound, veterinary hospital, or its owner’s home. Other times, an investigation just means the dog’s vaccination and licenses will be verified.

A dog will not be put down in California unless it is proven to be a dangerous dog. This is a separate hearing altogether, so you will not have to worry about a dog being euthanized if you file a lawsuit against its irresponsible owner.

Why Should I File a Lawsuit?

If you were harmed in any way by a dog bite, you should not have to suffer the consequences alone. Filing a lawsuit can also help ensure that the dog owner takes responsibility for their animal, which may prevent the dog from being classified as dangerous (and subsequently put down) in the future.

Additionally, dog bites can cause serious injuries and infections, which can be expensive and certainly justify legal action.

If you’re ready to start your case, get in touch with our legal team at  Del Rio & Caraway, P.C. We are available 24/7 at (916) 229-6755, offer free case evaluations, and look forward to hearing from you!