If a dog bit you, you may assert the claims of negligence or strict liability against the dog owner. However, dog owners still have defenses to mitigate their liability. An Orange County dog bite attorney discusses some of these defenses that could challenge your dog bite case.
In most states, such as California, the dog bite statute holding owners strictly liable is limited to the dog owner. Thus, if the defendant is not the owner but the keeper of the dog, then the keeper must have knowledge of the vicious propensities of the dog prior to your injury. See Buffington v. Nicholson, 78 Cal.App.2d 37, 42 (1947). Similarly, former owners cannot be held liable for the dog’s conduct even if you had just purchased the dog and the dog bit you, so long as the sale was complete. Menches v. Inglewood Humane Society, 51 Cal.App.2d 415, 417-18 (1942). An Orange County dog bite attorney may argue, if applicable, that the former owner was fraudulent acted in the sale of the dog if he or she knew of the dog’s vicious propensity but did not tell you or lied.
To prove ownership, you may demand documents related to the sale of the dog, the dog’s medical records, animal control records, written authority to euthanize, or circumstantial evidence such as where the dog commonly slept and who took the dog to the veterinarian. Another indication of ownership is who exercised substantial control over the dog.
To succeed on a dog bite claim, it is your burden of proof to show not only ownership but also which dog bit you. See generally Jordan v. Harvey, 61 Cal.App.2d 134 (1943). This is simple if only one dog is present and that dog bit you. However, if there are several dogs present, you must identify which dog bit you. This could be difficult if the dogs are of the same breed and lacks obvious distinguishing marks.
Most states do not permit trespassers to sue for dog bites, although the defense varies from state to state. Generally, if you were on private property and did not have expressed or implied permission to be on the property, then you may not successfully sue for the dog bite injury. For example, in California, the dog bite statute only protects you if you were in a “public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog.” Fullerton v. Conan, 87 Cal.App.2d 354, 357-558 (1948). California does not permit trespassers to recover for dog bite injuries, even if you did not have criminal intent, such as robbery or vandalism, when you trespassed.
You are lawfully on the property if you:
However, even if you were a trespasser, you could also argue liability under the theories of negligence or strict liability for dangerous propensity. For example, if the owner knew of his dog’s viciousness and he did not take necessary precautions, like posting “Beware of Dog” signs and keeping the dog fenced within his property, he could be held liable for your dog bite injuries.
Although most states impose strict liability for dog bites, many states, such as California, find that the defendants may assert certain defenses if you:
Burden v. Globerson, 252 Cal.App.2d 468, 470-71 (1967).
In California, some exceptions to the provocation defense include:
What constitutes provocation is determined on a case-by-case basis, which may include unintentional acts such as stepping on the dog’s tail.
Assumption of the Risk
To assume the risk of a dog attack, the defense must show that:
For example, you assumed the risk of the dog bite if you ignored the “Beware of Dog” signs.
It is important to note that in California, if you are five years old and older and found to be comparatively negligent resulting in the dog bite, e.g. you provoked the dog, then your monetary award is reduced by the degree of your negligence.
If you were bitten by a dog, consult an experienced Orange County dog bite attorney with Russell & Lazarus APC at (949) 851-0222.