Dog Bite Laws - California Civil Code 3342

Posted by Raoul Severo | Sep 17, 2020 | 0 Comments

The saying “a dog is a man's best friend” holds true for many people. Rain or shine, you can count on them to be there and wiggle their tails for you. They can be your partner-in-crime, a shoulder to lean on, or even a personal assistant. There truly is no other creature on Earth that complements our human nature better than these canine buddies.

However, as cute as they can be, they can become dangerous to humans -- or even worse, lethal. This is a fact that so many people have witnessed firsthand, and unfortunately, not all of them get to live to tell the story. It is important to take note, however, that we are not trying to paint dogs in a bad light. If anything, they are just like us. They are just as capable of getting agitated and fearful as their human companions. One of their defense mechanism is to attack and bite whoever they deem threatening. We cannot blame them for acting that way -- it is in their nature. But what if you get bitten by a dog? Who do you hold accountable if not the animal?

California Civil Code 3342 answers that it is the dog owner who is responsible for any injury inflicted by their pet to another person. This is true even in the following circumstances:

  • The victim was bitten inside the pet owner's private property given that the petkeeper gave permission to enter or that the victim entered the private property to conduct state duties;
  • The owner did not expect his/her dog to react in such a vicious way; and
  • The owner took preventive measures to keep the canine from injuring anyone.

It may seem unfair for dog owners, but such a standard is only reasonable as the dog cannot possibly be sentenced to jail or pay the medical bills of the person it bit. Since you are the caretaker of the dog, you basically become the dog's representative. But of course, there are exemptions to this civil code. A victim is ineligible to charge the owner for the laceration he/she sustained from the dog if:

  • The plaintiff trespassed;
  • The plaintiff provoked the dog;
  • The dog was protecting its owner from harm;
  • The dog is a member of law enforcement and was apprehending the victim for suspected criminal activity; and
  • The plaintiff voluntarily jeopardized his/her own safety.

Additionally, California Penal Code 398 requires dog owners to provide their name, address, contact number, and the name of the animal to the victim within 48 hours of the bite. Otherwise, the dog owner will be mandated to pay up to $100, excluding the medical bills of the victim should they decide to pursue a civil lawsuit. Other related statutes are California Penal Code 399 and California Penal Code 399.5.

Settlement for Dog Bites

Health complications from a dog bite may range from non-lethal to life-threatening cases. This is especially true if the dog did not get vaccinated for rabies or if the wound becomes infected or contaminated. If you file a lawsuit against the owner of the dog who injured you, you may be entitled to the following compensation:

  • Hospital bills;
  • Physical or vocational therapy;
  • Loss of past and future payments (given that they are relevant to the injury)
  • Scarring or disfigurement;
  • Wrongful death claim; and
  • Pain and suffering.

These are only for civil cases. But given that dog bites can branch out to becoming a criminal violation, then the penalties that the petkeeper will face depends on whether the violation is classified as an infraction, a misdemeanor, or a felony. For example, if the petkeeper violates California PC 399.5, then they will be facing either a misdemeanor or a felony offense. The following are the punishments:

  • Either up to 1 year in county jail OR imprisonment for 2, 3, or 4 years
  • A maximum fine of $10,000

Legal Assistance for Dog Bites Civil Lawsuit

It seems only fitting that California, one of the states which have “strict liability” laws for pet owners, sees the highest number of dog bite lawsuits in America. For that reason, both defendants and plaintiffs alike are highly encouraged to get legal assistance from civil lawyers. Civil defense attorneys will be able to help responsible dog owners from paying the consequences of a potentially unreasonable lawsuit. Likewise, lawyers will be able to decipher which settlements will suit the best interests of the victim. 

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