Pets or Threats? California Law Regarding Dog Attacks
How many times have you gone to the beach, only to spot someone’s dog frolicking in the surf without a leash?
Many people would cast a benevolent eye on such a scene, but in truth, these dog owners are violating Los Angeles Municipal Code. Even in some dog parks it’s a violation to let a dog off-leash, and by the way, the tether in question needs to be no longer than six feet long.
The reality of the matter is that whether the dog is behind a fence, on a leash, or running free – and whether or not the owner knows how aggressive his or her dog is towards people and other animals – it is the pet owner who is held responsible. (Please read my colleague’s, David Bobrosky’s, blog about Pitt Bull & Rottweiler Dog Attacks, for steps to take immediately after being bitten or attacked by a dog.)
California Civil Code Section 3342 states:
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.
There are exceptions, of course, i.e. if the dog is working in a policing capacity, or when trespassers break into a dog owner’s home. Aside from these situations, you should know that:
- Owners are liable for their dogs, whether the animal bites for the first time (called the one bite rule), or has attacked on other occasions – and whether the dog has been trained to fight, is in service, or is just a family pet.
- Owners may have to serve jail time or pay monetary fines if they are found criminally liable. They may be liable for the victim’s medical bills, long-term care, increased living costs, psychological counseling to overcome trauma, and other provable damages.
- If a dog attacks a human and that dog has been trained to fight, attack or kill – a district or city attorney can bring a criminal action against the dog owner. A court may take whatever action is necessary to ensure the vicious animal does not attack people again. A court order could include euthanizing the animal, in addition to criminal penalties against the owner.
When a vicious dog attacks more than once, anyone can bring an action against the owner (called the two bite rule), and a court may order the dog euthanized.
What If a Dog Attacks Another Dog?
Your dog may be your best friend, and that friendship may be priceless to you.
To the courts though, there is generally a market value accorded to the dog. Usually, the value depends on the dog’s purchase price, age, health, breed, training, and certain other factors.
California law is ever-changing, and this applies to a dog’s value, including the emotional distress suffered by an owner of a dog suffering serious or fatal injury. Several years ago, a jury awarded a dog owner $39,000 in a veterinary malpractice suit – nearly one quarter of that constituted reimbursement for treatment, but the remaining amount compensated for the dog’s unique value to the owner.
Just remember California Civil Code stated above: the owner of any dog is liable for damages…