WHAT ARE THE OPTIONS IF BITTEN BY A DOG?
You were bitten by a dog. What options do you have? There are several questions to ask prior to arriving at that answer.
In California the owner of the dog is held “strictly liable” for the harm caused from a dog bite or dog attack. Civil Code Section 3342(a). Under the law, the dog owner is liable for dog bite personal injury no matter how carefully the owner guards or restrains the dog, even if the dog was never vicious before and even if the owner did not know the dog was vicious. However, the owner of the dog is not liable for dog bite personal injury unless the dog that bit or attacked the person was either
- In a public place,
- Lawfully on private property, or
- Was invited onto the property by the owner
What this means is, a trespasser onto the property cannot sue for a dog bite personal injury.
So, in summary, a person bit by a dog has a right to seek recovery from the owner of that dog. Realistically speaking, obtaining the dog bite personal injury recovery can become challenging if that owner does not carry homeowners insurance. We carry insurance for the specific purpose of protecting ourselves against liability to others and provide coverage for our losses in the event such occurs. In many, many situations the owner of the dog rents their house. Very few renters carry renters insurance and thus, the person primarily responsible for your personal injury and associated damages is unable to compensate you for those damages. The question then arises, is anyone else responsible?
IS THE OWNER OF THE PROPERTY (LANDLORD) RESPONSIBLE FOR PERSONAL INJURY AND DAMAGES CAUSED BY THE TENANT’S DOG?
A person renting has a landlord, presumably the owner of the property. Is the owner of the property responsible for personal injury and damages caused by the tenant’s dog? In very limited circumstances, yes. A residential landlord is only responsible for a tenant’s dog attack or bite personal injury if they
- Had actual knowledge that the dog had a vicious nature, and
- the landlord had the ability to timely prevent the foreseeable harm
Chee v. Amanda Goldt Property Management (2006) 143 Cal.App.4th 1360. What this means is that to hold the landlord responsible for dog bite personal injury an injured person would have to prove that the landlord actually knew about the dog’s dangerous nature, not should have known but actually knew, and that the landlord had a chance to do something about the dog after learning of that dangerous nature, like evicting the dog owner. This is tough. I’m not recalling a situation where a landlord was willing to admit that they knew the dog was dangerous and did nothing about it. 100% of the time there is denial about the existence of the dog, whether or not the dog was dangerous, and thus no duty for them to evict the animal. Measures must be taken such as interviewing neighbors, searching animal control records, determining if prior police reports existed. Without written or verbal evidence to the above, it is nearly impossible to hold a landlord responsible for personal injury and damages caused by the tenant’s dog. In those situations, the injured person is left only to pursue the dog owner.
Things change a bit if the tenant-landlord was commercial in nature, such as a store or other commercial enterprise. In that situation, the landlord has a duty to inspect and is liable for dog bite personal injury if he or she knew or reasonably should have known of the dog’s dangerous nature prior to the attack and could have removed the dog before it injured the victim. Portillo v. Aissa (1994) 27 Cal.App.4th 1128. The difference is obvious – an injured person now does not need to show actual knowledge, rather they can argue if the landlord had been reasonably diligent in managing the property they would have known about the dangerous animal and could have had it removed.
California law is very unfriendly to the individual who has been attacked by a dog. With such a massive percentage of the population renters, with no viable liability coverage, it leaves the injured person with no recovery for their damages.