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Animal Bites

Animal bites in California can lead to a claim for personal injury. Animal bites may be caused by any animal, but usually dogs. However, one may be bitten by cats, horses, goats, pigs, parrots, or any other bites causing injury. One may be stung by bees or other insects which can lead to a claim for compensation for loses. These losses can include medical care, lost earning and mental anguish.

With regards to dogs, California Law imposes for strict liability to the owner of the dog. See full text of California Civil Code Section 3342 at the end of this memo. This means that an owner of a dog who bites a person either in a public place or lawfully in a private place is responsible for the injuries caused by the dog bite. This strict liability is imposed even if the dog had never bitten a human in the past.

Again, this statute calls for strict liability to the owner. The statutory provision that the bite is inflicted on a person who is lawfully in a private place prevents a claim by burglars, trespassers or other unauthorized occupants onto private property. Lawful occupants include visitors, guests, service providers, inspectors, postal carriers, Amazon delivery personnel and others who have an expressed or implied right to enter onto the private property. And, of course, any person bitten by a dog in public may recover damages caused from the dog owner.

While the statute provides for strict liability (liability without fault), there is at least one case where the appellate court determined that the claimant assumed the risk of injury. In that case, a veterinarian assistant removed a muzzle from a dog during a veterinarian operation procedure. The owner of the dog clearly warned the veterinarian clinic that the dog had a propensity to bite and was potentially dangerous unless muzzled. The veterinarian clinic was warned that the muzzle should not be removed. When the veterinarian assistant removed the muzzle, the dog bit the assistant. The assistant filed a personal injury lawsuit claiming that the dog bit her while she was lawfully on private property, the veterinarian clinic.  In that appellate case, the court ruled that the Plaintiff had assumed the risk and the statute applying strict liability on the dog owner did not apply.

Often the victim is bitten by a tenants’ dog. The question then becomes whether the owner of the property (landlord) is at all responsible for the injury caused by the dog bite.  In such a scenario, and since the landlord is not the owner of the dog, the claimant must prove landlord negligence.  In essence, the Plaintiff must prove that the owner of the land knew or should have known that the tenant had a dog with a propensity for biting and did not prudently remove the animal or otherwise restrict the animal’s access to those entering the property. In my practice, I have successfully sued landlords for dog bites caused by their tenant’s dogs on many occasions. In one particular instance, the landlord had been previously sued by a neighbor when the same tenant’s dog bit the neighbor. Several years later, the same dog bit my client. It was relatively easy to establish that the owner knew the dog was dangerous and acted imprudently. The landlord was found to have been negligent and responsible for the injuries.

It is important to note that the Civil Code Section 3342 ONLY applies to strict liability for dogs biting a claimant. Often people are injured by the dog other than being bitten by the dog. Dogs may jump up on a visitor causing them to fall and suffer injuries. Dogs may escape their yard and cause or contribute to traffic collisions. In these and similar scenarios, the dog bite strict liability statute do not apply. The Claimant must establish that the owner of the dog or the owner of the land (or both) were negligent in allowing the known behavior which caused injury. This essentially means that the claimant must prove that the dog owner or property knew or should have known of the dog’s propensity to jump up on people, escape from the yard, or other past behavior by the dog causing injury.

The Code establishes strict liability for the owner of the dog is clear. However, often tenants/owner of the dogs do not have adequate insurance to cover their liability for injuries caused by a dog. Therefore, my office does a careful study and investigation as to how to legally implicate the property owner/landlord in the claim. Most often, insurance is provided by landlords in dog bite cases if the Claimant can establish negligence on behalf of the landowner.

While the dog bite statute is quite clear, one may be bitten or stung by other animals or insects. In my practice, I have made claims for people injured in a serious bite by a horse, a pig and a parrot. California Law does not impose strict liability for bites caused by these animals. Accordingly, in order to successfully prosecute the claim for injuries from being bitten by an animal other than a dog, the Claimant must establish negligence.  Essentially, Plaintiff must establish that the owner of the pet in question or the landowner had a duty to prevent the animal from biting and breached that duty causing injuries. The Claimant must establish that the pet owner or property owner knew or should have known of the animal’s propensity to bite. I successfully prosecuted a case where a person was severely injured by a parrot who bit my client. The evidence in the case established that the owner of the parrot knew that the parrot had bitten many others in the past and did not warn Plaintiff. Therefore, the owner of the parrot was negligent.

A claimant may also be bitten by an otherwise WILD ANIMAL being kept by the owner as a pet. For instance, one may keep a bear, racoon, deer, squirrel, snake or other normally other wild animal. Generally, keeping wild animals as pets is an inherently dangerous activity. One cannot control an animal. The law most often applies liability for injuries against one who keeps animals who are normally not kept as pets. If you are bitten by a wild animal being kept as a pet, you may prosecute a claim for injuries.

If one is attacked and stung by bees kept by a beekeeper, there may also be liability for the injuries. This could also apply to stings from wasps or hornets if the landowner knew of the potential threat and imprudently failed to warn or otherwise prevent these stings.

In bringing a claim for these types of injuries, one often suffers both physical injury and mental suffering. Often the fear of animals persists long after the physical injuries have resolved. That mental trauma is treatable and can lead to compensation from the responsible party.

The law on animal bites is an interesting subject. It requires dedicated legal investigation and prosecution of any claims. My office would be happy to advise any potential claimant on their rights when injured by any animal. Call 925-234-4340 or send an email.

California Civil Code Section 3342(a).

(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.