California Dog Law

Liability Statute

Under this statute, a dog owner is liable to a person bitten by the owner's dog, regardless of the dog's former viciousness. The statute allows the victim to recover without having to prove any fault of the owner. California's dog bite statute applies to dog injuries that occur in public places, as well as those that occur on private property. A dog owner can defend the suit only by proving that the victim assumed the risk of the bite.

Dangerous Dog Statute

The Meaning of a "Potentially Dangerous Dog"

A "potentially dangerous dog" is:

  • any dog that, when unprovoked, on two separate occasions within the prior 36-month period engages in any behavior that requires a defensive action by any person to prevent bodily injury when the person and the dog are not on the owner's property; or
  • any dog that, when unprovoked, bites a person and causes a less-than severe injury; or
  • any dog that, when unprovoked, on two separate occasions within the prior 36-month period, has killed, seriously bitten, inflicted injury, or otherwise caused injury attacking a domestic animal when the animals are not on the dog owner's property.

The Meaning of a "Vicious Dog"

A "vicious dog" is:

  • a dog that, when unprovoked, in an aggressive manner kills or inflicts a severe injury on a person. A severe injury is a physical injury that results in muscle tears or disfiguring lacerations or requires multiple sutures or corrective cosmetic surgery.
  • A vicious dog also includes a dog that has previously been determined to be potentially dangerous and continues its dangerous behavior.

Legal Responsibilities of Owners of Potentially Dangerous and Vicious Dogs

  • Owners must confine potentially dangerous and vicious dogs in an enclosure that prevents the dog from escaping, and that also prevents children from trespassing.
  • A dangerous dog is permitted off the owner's property, only if it is restrained by a substantial leash, of appropriate length, and if it is under the control of a responsible adult.
  • Cities and counties can prohibit ownership of vicious dogs.

Liability of Owners of Potentially Dangerous and Vicious Dogs

When a potentially dangerous dog injures a person, the owner is liable under the Dog Bite Statute and also faces a fine up to $500. When a vicious dog injures a person, the owner is liable under the Dog Bite Statute and also faces a fine up to $1,000.

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