When a dog attacks, they can cause considerable harm, particularly when a large canine bites a child or elderly person. Even if the victim’s bite is not immediately life-threatening, the ever-present risk of infections, virulent diseases (such as rabies), and long-term impediments can result in considerable medical care and expenses. If you or a loved one are bitten in California, you may have a case for a successful dog bite lawsuit.

What is the Deadline for Filing a Dog Bite Lawsuit in California?

The state of California has a statute of limitations on personal injury lawsuits, per the California Code of Civil Procedure Section 335.1. A statute of limitations sets a specific window in which a personal injury case may be filed in a region’s court system. Once the statute of limitations expires, it is incredibly challenging to initiate a lawsuit. In California, the victim of a dog bite has two years to file a lawsuit for damages incurred.

What Does “Strict Liability” Mean Regarding Dog Attacks?

Most states determine responsibility for injuries caused to others in terms of either “negligence” or “strict liability.” In terms of injuries caused by dog bites, California is a strict liability state. Therefore, an owner cannot escape responsibility for their pet’s actions by claiming that they were unaware of their dog’s potential to act aggressively. Even if their dog has never bitten or injured anyone before, the owner is liable for all ensuing harm, provided that:

  • The victim’s injuries were caused specifically by a bite
  • The bite victim was in a public place or lawfully present in a private place when they were attacked

Typically, dog bite injuries caused by a military or police dog at work are excluded from these conditions. It’s important to note that the victim’s injuries must be caused by a dog bite. For example, if a victim is knocked down a flight of stairs by an unattended dog and suffers a broken hip, California’s dog bite statute would not apply. The harmed party in such a situation may, however, have the basis of a successful negligence case.

Defenses to Dog Bite Liability in California

California’s strict liability policy regarding dog attacks make it challenging to successfully defend against a bite attack lawsuit. However, depending on the details of the incident in question, a dog owner or governmental agency may claim that:

  • The bite victim was trespassing on private property. To claim damages from a dog bite, the victim must either be in a public space or lawfully in a private place, including the dog owner’s residence. If it can be proven in court that the victim was trespassing unlawfully on private property at the time of the attack, they may be unable to collect damages.
  • The bite victim provoked, attacked, or harmed the dog. If it can be proven that the victim provoked a dog that then attacked them, the owner may not be liable for damages inflicted.
  • The attacking dog was a police or military dog carrying out its duties. This defense is sometimes used by military or government agencies. However, they must be able to prove that the aggressive dog was carrying out specifically defined police or military duties at the time of the incident. Additionally, the responsible department or agency must have a written policy for their canines.

Counties & Cities in California With Breed-Specific Laws

To protect their residents, many cities and counties in California have regulations and laws limiting the breeding and ownership of dog breeds that are deemed aggressive or high-risk. Some areas mandate sterilization of particular breeds, while others prevent larger dogs from living in housing facilities. A study by Rodriguez & Associates tracks the regions of California that, as of January 1st, 2021, had breed-specific ordinances.

County or City Ordinance & Impacted Breeds
Adelanto Special Requirements for Impounded Pit Bulls
Avalon Mandatory Sterilization: Pit Bulls
Gilroy Mandatory Sterilization: Pit Bulls
Gonzales Confinement Requirement: Pit Bulls
Hollister Mandatory Sterilization: Pit Bulls & Chihuahuas
Lake County “Adoption Amnesty Program” for Reduced Cost Spay / Neuter & Free Vaccinations
Lancaster Mandatory Sterilization: Pit Bulls & Rottweilers
Manteca Mandatory Sterilization: Pit Bulls
Ripon Mandatory Sterilization: Pit Bulls
Riverside County Mandatory Sterilization: Pit Bulls
Sacramento County County “Sterilization Fund” for Free Pit Bull Sterilization (Income Restricted)
San Bernardino County Mandatory Sterilization: Pit Bulls
San Francisco County Mandatory Sterilization: Pit Bulls
Sonoma County Mandatory Sterilization: Pit Bulls

What to Do After a Dog Attack

If you or a loved one are bitten by a dog, it’s important that you visit a hospital and see a doctor as soon as possible. Even if the wound does not look severe, a bite can become life-threatening if the dog was afflicted with rabies or another virulent infection. Document the details of the attack, take photos of injuries incurred, and get the contact information of any bystanders. Once you’ve secured appropriate medical treatment, contact a personal injury attorney to discover your legal options for compensation.