California “Dog Bite” Law: Does the "One Bite" Rule Apply in California and When is a Dog Owner Liable?

CA "Dog Bite" Law Explained

California “dog bite” law is governed by Civil Code § 3342 and imposes strict liability on dog owners. This means that a dog owner in California is civilly liable for damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the dog even if the owner is not acting negligently and the dog has never bitten before. (Civ. Code § 3342(a)).

Multiple Bites

If the dog has bitten before, California law imposes the additional duty on dog owners to take reasonable steps to protect others from any danger presented by the dog. (Civ. Code § 3342.5(a)). Dogs that have bitten a human on more than two separate occasions may be ordered removed from the area or euthanized. (Civ. Code § 3342.5(b)).

For more information or to start your case, contact Escovar Law, APC today.

The "One Bite" Rule

Unlike states such as Nevada, California does not follow the “one bite” rule, where an owner is only liable for the dog bite if the dog has bitten someone before, has previously been classified as “dangerous” or “vicious,” or the dog owner acted negligently.

Injuries relating to dog bites can cause substantial bodily and psychological damage to the victim. The victim may be entitled to compensation and can seek recovery from the dog owner personally or file suit against the dog owner’s homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy, if available. Victims of dog bites have two years from the date of the injury to file suit. (Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 335.1).

Compensation for Dog Bite Victims

Victims of dog bite injuries can seek recovery and compensation for medical bills relating to the bite, psychological counseling, lost wages, pain and suffering, physical or occupational therapy, scarring, and any other damages caused by the attack. In the event that the victim is fatally wounded by the dog, the victim’s family may be able to seek wrongful death damages.

Is the Owner Responsible?

Under certain circumstances, a dog owner can also be held criminally liable for the injuries caused by his or her dog. For example, the criminal case of People v. Marjorie Knoller (2007) 41 Cal. 4th 139, reached public notoriety in 2001 when Diane Whipple was killed in a dog attack in San Francisco by two Presa Canarios. The dogs were being cared for by Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel, who lived in the same apartment complex as Diane Whipple.

After the fatal attack, the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office brought charges against Marjorie Knoller for both second degree murder and involuntary manslaughter and, co-defendant Robert Noel, who was not present at the time of the attack, was charged with involuntary manslaughter.

A jury convicted both defendants on all counts, which they appealed. Ultimately, Noel’s involuntary manslaughter conviction was upheld and he was sentenced to three years in state prison. Knoller’s second degree murder conviction was also upheld and she was sentenced to 15 years to life in state prison, which she is still serving.

Although this case presents an extreme example of the liability dog owners are exposed to in California, it is important for dog owners to fully understand the responsibility they have for the actions of their dogs, both civilly and criminally.

If you need assistance with seeking compensation for a dog bite injury or you have any questions, please our office at 626-577-7700.


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