Extensive case-law has been established throughout the years for dog-related personal injuries. This is so because invariably, every year, thousands of individuals are bitten, or otherwise harmed, by a dog. Injuries are not limited to bites, but can occur when a dog knocks an individual over, causes them to trip over the dog’s leash, or causes the victim to fall trying to avoid an aggresive dog without the dog even making contact with the victim (see Dog Bites/Injuries). California imposes very tough rules for the dog owner (when compared to other states), and contrary to popular belief, there is no “one-bite” rule under California law. When it comes to being bitten by a dog, California law imposes strict liability on the dog owner and such liability is codified in California Civil Code Section 3342. What this rule means is that so long as the victim was legally on the dog owner’s property (sorry, unlawful trespassers, you’re not protected under this law) or in a public place and the dog bites him/her, the owner is completely liable, with little exception. The stereotype of postal workers being bitten by a dog is actually perpetuated in the language of this law, as postal employees are specifically mentioned in Section 3342 due to the abundant number of dog bites/attacks on postal workers every year. When the injuries to the victim result from something other than a bite, California follows standard negligence or negligent per se theories of liability. Under a negligence theory of liability, the victim must show that the owner (1) owed a duty to that victim, (2) the owner breached that duty, (3) the victim was injured by the owner’s dog, and (4) but for that breach, the victim would not have been injured (i.e., the breach of duty was a proximate cause of the victim’s injuries). An example of this is where an owner takes his dog to a local coffee shop and doesn’t use a leash. The owner has a duty to leash his dog (for obvious reasons, the most obvious being the likelihood of the dog injuring someone), even if local laws don’t require him to do so. The dog then gets excited when it sees the victim approaching and leaps at the victim, causing her to fall and break her arm. The owner would not be liable under a strict liability standard because the dog did not bite the victim, but would rather be liable under the aforementioned negligence theory of liability because but-for his failure to leash and restrain the dog, the injury would not have happened. Under a negligence per se theory of liability, proving liability on the owner is a little bit easier, because if the owner violates a local ordinance or law designed to protect victims from dog-related injuries, and his dog injures someone, the law automatically presumes the owner breached his duty of care. Negligence per se is codified in California Evidence Code 669. A classic example of this is the hypothetical scenario discussed above. But in this case, let’s assume there was a local ordinance that required all dog owners to control their dogs in public places with a a leash no longer than 4 feet. In the hypothetical, the dog owner did not use a leash at all, and as a result, the dog injured the victim. The local ordinance was designed to prevent such scenarios from occuring. Because the owner failed to follow the ordinance, the duty he was presumed to owe to the victim was breached, without the need for any further inquiry, and the owner will be liable for the victim’s injuries. If you or someone you know has been injured by a dog, contact our dog bite injury lawyer for a free consultation. For additional case-law information, see Dog Bites/Injuries.
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