Is California a 'Strict Liability' or 'One-Bite' Rule State for Dog Bite Claims?

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Does California Follow the ‘One-Bite’ or ‘Strict Liability’ Rule for Dog Bite Cases?

Does California Follow the ‘One-Bite’ or ‘Strict Liability’ Rule for Dog Bite Cases?

Sep 5, 2023

If you are injured by a dog bite or attack, the owner of the animal may be responsible for your damages – including pain and suffering, lost wages, medical costs, and more. A dog bite lawyer can help you recover those damages through a civil lawsuit or pre-litigation demand letter.

Is California a ‘Strict Liability’ or ‘One-Bite’ Rule State for Dog Bite Claims?

Depending on the state where the dog attack took place, there are different laws that can determine liability. To be successful in a civil case involving a dog attack, the plaintiff must prove that the incident was due to negligence or carelessness.

California dog bite laws are often misunderstood. Many people believe that the “one-bite” rule applies to animal owners here in the Golden State (as it does in some others). In the sections below, we will discuss the “one-bite” rule and whether it applies to California law. We’ll also provide information on how to file your civil claim for financial compensation with the experienced dog bite attorneys at Dordulian Law Group.

What is the ‘One-Bite’ Rule for Dog Bite Claims?

The one-bite rule is a law applied in certain states which can often protect an animal owner from litigation after a first incident (although it depends on the circumstances of the case).

The one-bite rule states:

The dog owner (and anyone associated with the dog – such as a walker, breeder, or trainer) is protected from liability pertaining to a “first injury” caused by the animal. The one-bite rule, however, can be open to interpretation and impose liability on an animal owner if the incident in question meets certain criteria (i.e. a history of aggression in demonstrated by the animal that may have previously not caused a direct injury via a bite).

Under the one-bite rule, if a dog previously bit a human and the animal owner knew about it, he or she would essentially be held liable for any additional bites or attacks. In one-bite rule states, liability is imposed on animal owners who do not protect other humans from dogs that have previously bitten or attacked.

Does California Follow the One-Bite Rule?

California law does apply the one-bite rule to the vast majority dog bite cases. Rather, Golden State law imposes strict liability on dog owners. The Golden State holds dog owners responsible for damages if their dogs bite another person – even once – regardless of the animal’s history.

California Civil Code and Dog Bite Incidents

California Civil Code 3342, the state’s dog bite statute, reads as follows:

(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.

(b) Nothing in this section shall authorize the bringing of an action pursuant to subdivision (a) against any governmental agency using a dog in military or police work if the bite or bites occurred while the dog was defending itself from an annoying, harassing, or provoking act, or assisting an employee of the agency in any of the following:

  1. In the apprehension or holding of a suspect where the employee has a reasonable suspicion of the suspect’s involvement in criminal activity.
  2. In the investigation of a crime or possible crime.
  3. In the execution of a warrant.
  4. In the defense of a peace officer or another person.

(c) Subdivision (b) shall not apply in any case where the victim of the bite or bites was not a party to, nor a participant in, nor suspected to be a party to or a participant in, the act or acts that prompted the use of the dog in the military or police work.

(d) Subdivision (b) shall apply only where a governmental agency using a dog in military or police work has adopted a written policy on the necessary and appropriate use of a dog for the police or military work enumerated in subdivision (b).

The above language – while complex in sections – simply means that although there are some exceptions to the strict liability dog bite law in California, most animal owners are held to such a standard. In cases where the strict liability standard may not apply, the one-bite rule will more than likely be imposed in order to prove that the defendant (animal owner) was negligent. If you were bitten by a dog and suffered an injury, the animal owner will more than likely be held to the strict liability standard.

List of One-Bite Rule States for Animal Attack Claims

Currently, the vast majority of states follow the strict liability rule for dog bite cases. In fact, only 16 states continue to follow to the one-bite rule:

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • Idaho
  • Kansas
  • Maryland
  • Mississippi
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Oregon
  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Wyoming

Important Exceptions to the California Strict Liability Law

Although California follows the strict liability law, there are certain exceptions to be aware of if you are either an animal owner or were harmed in a dog attack.

California Civil Code 3342 places strict liability on dog owners when bites occur:

  • In a public place
  • In a location where the victim was lawfully present

Accordingly, some exceptions to the strict liability law apply in California, such as:

  • The victim was trespassing on the animal owner’s property at the time of the bite/attack
  • The owner of the dog is not the individual being sued or named in the complaint
  • The dog was a law enforcement animal in the line of duty
  • The victim was at least partially responsible for his or her injuries
  • The victim assumed the risk of being bitten by the dog

If your dog bite occurred as a result of one of the above exempted scenarios, you may not have a valid claim for damages via a complaint that specifically seeks to hold the animal owner “strictly liable.” However, you may still be able to file a claim for financial compensation in relation to any injuries sustained as a result of the dog bite by arguing that the owner was in fact negligent.

The best way to find out if you have a valid dog bite claim for financial compensation is by calling Dordulian Law Group’s (DLG) personal injury attorneys at 866-GO-SEE-SAM for a free consultation.

How Do I Know If I’m Liable After My Dog Bites Someone?

All dog owners and others directly associated with the animal (walkers, trainers, etc.) can potentially be held liable for:

  • Negligence
  • Premises liability
  • Emotional distress
  • Violation of a leash law or other municipal law that leads to injury
  • Intentional conduct involving the use of a dog
  • Reckless, careless, or negligent behavior involving the use of a dog

If you’ve suffered a dog bite injury, an experienced DLG attorney is available 24/7 to answer any questions you may have regarding your case, your legal rights, how much your claim may be worth, and what the legal process may entail.

Are Dogs Euthanized in California After Biting Humans?

A formal hearing must always be conducted before consideration can be made over whether a dog should be either euthanized or removed from its owner after a bite or attack. Euthanizing or removal hearings are typically initiated by government officials (e.g. Animal Control officers) or a witness to the incident.

In order for a hearing to proceed, the following criteria must be met:

The dog must have bitten a person/people on at least two separate occasions
The dog must have been raised specifically to fight or attack humans and must have bitten at least one person in the past

If the dog is considered to be a danger to public safety, it may ultimately be euthanized (although this actually only occurs in rare cases where an animal demonstrates a sustained history of aggression and injuring humans).

How Much is My Dog Bite Cash Settlement Worth?

If you’ve suffered a dog bite, you may be entitled to financial compensation for various economic and non-economic damages:

  • Hospital/medical expenses
  • Rehabilitation or therapy
  • Lost wages
  • Lost earning capacity
  • Scarring or disfigurement
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional trauma
  • Reduced quality of life
  • Punitive damages

By contacting DLG’s experienced and dedicated dog bite attorneys, we can help you file a claim and recover the maximum financial compensation you deserve for all applicable damages.

Contact California’s Best Dog Bite Lawyers for a Free Consultation

With DLG, you can be confident that we will use our experience and proven success to help you obtain the financial compensation you deserve. We never settle for less than a maximum financial damages award.

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DLG’s dog bite and personal injury attorneys are the absolute best choice you can make when searching for a winning legal team. And our No Win/No Fee Guarantee means you never have to worry about upfront costs or out-of-pocket expenses. You’ll never pay a penny until we recover maximum financial compensation for your injuries. If we don’t win, you won’t pay anything – that’s the DLG Advantage.

Contact us today at 866-GO-SEE-SAM to learn more about why DLG is the best dog bite law firm in California. We’ll fight aggressively as your dedicated legal advocates to secure justice and recover the maximum compensation you deserve.


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