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  • Writer's pictureLOTG

When a Dog Owner May Not Be Liable In a Dog Bite Case

Updated: Apr 15

According to the Center for Disease Control, there are more than 4.5 million dog bites each year in the United States. While the cause of bites may vary, the liability of the dog owner depends on several factors, most notably, the specific state laws that apply. California has a "strict liability" statute regarding dog bites, which favors the victim. But when is a dog owner not liable?

What Is Strict Liability?

The vast majority of states in the United States are either a "negligence" or "strict liability" state. California is a strict liability state when it comes to dog bites. This means that a dog bite victim only has to prove that the damages they incurred were due to a dog bite and the bite occurred on public property or that they were lawfully on private property. It does not matter that the dog's owner did not know their dog was aggressive or that they would have bitten someone. Negligence states apply a typical “negligence” analysis to dog bites, which potentially puts less blame on the dog’s owner.

When Is a Dog Owner Not Liable?

If the victim was bitten in the course of a crime, like trespassing, the owner would not be liable. For example, if a person entered into someone's backyard without permission and the dog bit them in defense of the property, they would not be able to collect damages from the dog owner.

Another exception in California law is when a dog is acting in a police or military capacity. Someone who commits a crime and then is bit by a K-9 unit will not collect damages for the dog bite.

If a dog injures an individual not by a bite but by another method like jumping or scratching, then strict liability would not apply, and a negligence standard would be used. An attorney would argue that the dog owner failed at providing reasonable control over their dog. Negligence can be a more nuanced argument when compared to strict liability. Your attorney will be able to talk through a negligence action and what that entails if it applies to your case.

If you have suffered a dog bite, contact Gomerman | Bourn & Associates. Call 415-545-8608 to schedule a free consultation today!

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