Who’s liable when a dog bites someone in the City of Angels?
You’re walking down the Venice Beach Boardwalk on a warm summer afternoon with an iced coffee in one hand and a skateboard in the other. There’s a slight breeze carrying salt from the Pacific Ocean.
You’re thinking about how life couldn’t get much better when all of a sudden, a German Shepherd being walked on a leash lunges at you and tears a chunk of flesh from your leg. As you’re lying on the ground holding your leg, the dog’s owner apologizes profusely and tells you the dog has never bitten anyone or acted aggressively in its life.
You immediately know that you’ll need stitches, and you think you’ll probably need a ride to the nearest hospital in an ambulance. You just finished your 1st year at the Otis College of Art and Design, and you don’t have health insurance. You have no idea how you’re going to cover any of the inevitable medical expenses.
Can you sue the dog’s owner? Will it matter that the dog was on a leash and has never exhibited violent tendencies before?
Let’s take a look at dog bite laws in Los Angeles, California.
Dog ownership statistics in Los Angeles
Los Angeles is known as the City of Angels, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to call it the City of Dogs.
According to the Los Angeles Almanac, there are 562,411 dog owners in Los Angeles. To put that number in perspective, there are 1,402,522 households in Los Angeles, which means more than 40 percent of households in LA have at least 1 dog.
Dog lovers can be found in the greater Los Angeles area as well. There are roughly 1.3 million dog owners in Los Angeles County, meaning approximately 30 percent of households in Los Angeles County have at least 1 dog.
Los Angeles dog bite laws
There are essentially 2 types of dog bite laws in the United States:
- Strict liability. In states that apply strict liability, a dog owner is liable for a dog bite regardless of whether or not the dog has displayed aggressive or violent tendencies in the past.
- One-bite rule. In states that apply a one-bite rule, a dog owner is only liable for a dog bite if the owner knew or should have known about their dog’s violent tendencies.
California’s dog bite law is a strict liability law. In Los Angeles, the owner of a dog is liable for the damages caused by their dog’s bite so long as:
- The injured person didn’t provoke the dog, and
- The injured person was bitten in public or while lawfully on private property (i.e., not trespassing).
California law also requires dog owners to provide the victims of a dog bite with their address, telephone number, and the name, license tag number, and vaccination history of the dog who bit the victim.
Criminal liability for dog bites in Los Angeles
In addition to a civil lawsuit, a dog owner may face criminal charges if their dog bites someone while “at large” (i.e., not under the control of the owner) and the owner knew their dog was prone to “mischievous” behavior.
The owner will be charged with a felony if the dog bite victim was killed and a misdemeanor or felony if the victim was merely injured.
Common defenses to dog bite claims
The 2 primary defenses to the strict liability dog bite law that applies in Los Angeles are as follows:
- The dog owner can claim that the injured person provoked their dog. There’s no clear definition of what constitutes “provocation” for purposes of this defense. However, it’s probably not necessary that the injured person actually provoked the dog directly. For example, physically attacking the dog’s owner while the dog is nearby could constitute “provocation” sufficient for the owner to avoid liability.
- The dog owner might not be liable if the injured person was bit while unlawfully on the owner’s property. However, in cases where the dog is particularly vicious, the owner has a duty to warn trespassers that a dog is on the property by, for example, posting signs.
What damages can be recovered in a Los Angeles dog bite claim?
A dog bite lawsuit is a type of personal injury lawsuit. Accordingly, victims can recover the same type of compensation that plaintiffs in other personal injury cases can recover, including:
- Medical expenses
- Property damage
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering (emotional distress)
Families of people who are killed by a dog bite may be able to recover damages by filing a wrongful death claim.
Most people want to know who’s liable when a dog bites someone, but there are some other sections of the Los Angeles Municipal Code that dog owners should be familiar with.
Let’s look at some of the highlights:
- Leash laws. In Los Angeles, all dogs must be restrained by a substantial chain or leash not exceeding 6 feet in length when the dog is off the owner’s private property.
- Dog tags. All dogs must wear a dog tag affixed to a collar, harness, or another device except when the dog is indoors or in an enclosed yard.
- Vicious dogs. If a dog owner owns a vicious or dangerous dog, it must not be allowed to run at large. What’s more, the dog should not be allowed to run loose on the owner’s premises if the dog might injure someone lawfully entering the premises.
- Impounding. The city has the power to immediately impound a dog where there’s evidence the dog has attacked, bitten or injured a human or another animal, pending any legal proceeding arising from the attack.
- Vaccinations. Every person who owns a dog over the age of 4 months must have the dog vaccinated against rabies.
- Breeding. No person shall allow any dog in Los Angeles to breed without 1st obtaining a breeding permit.
- Dog defecation. It’s unlawful to allow your dog to defecate outside of the dog owner’s property without immediately disposing of it.
- Beaches. No person shall take any dog on a public beach in Los Angeles, with the exception of service dogs.
What to do after suffering a dog bite in Los Angeles
The aftermath of a dog bite can be chaotic. That’s why we’ve simplified the steps to take after a dog bite injury:
- Step 1: Get medical attention. Your 1st priority after being bitten by a dog should be getting medical attention. Although the seriousness of some dog bites is apparent immediately, other dog bites seem minor but can become serious if not treated. Bacteria from a dog’s mouth can get into your body and cause an infection, such as tetanus, rabies or sepsis.
- Step 2: Gather information. In Los Angeles, dog owners are required to provide you with their contact information following a dog bite incident. This information will be critical if you decide to sue the owner down the road.
- Step 3: Gather evidence. If it’s safe to do so, collect any evidence related to the dog bite incident. Evidence might include photographs of the scene, photographs of the dog, and photographs of your injuries. You should also collect the contact information of any witnesses.
- Step 4: Meet with an attorney. It’s a good idea to meet with an attorney as soon as possible following a dog bite injury. If you choose to file a lawsuit, you’ll need to do so within 2 years of the bite.