Every year, thousands of California families go to Disneyland and have a blast. For the most part, Orange County is a great setting for all the magic and more, but sometimes things go sour. On the way to the park, your three-year old is excited about meeting Mickey's pet dog, Pluto, and tries to pet a dog walking nearby. When the dog nips her on the hand, her tears flow like the waters on Splash Mountain. Don't worry, the law is set up to help victims of dog bites. Read this article on dog bite law in OC so that your dog story can have a happy ending.
Report the Bite
The Orange County Code of Ordinances requires "[a]ny person with knowledge of a bite" to report the incident to Orange County Animal Care. This duty applies to owners, witnesses, and bite victims. The dog must be quarantined as a precaution against rabies. The county instructs citizens to immediately call (714) 796-6421.
Owners and keepers must provide identifying information to the bite victim "as soon as is practicable, but no later than 48 hours" after learning of the bite. They must provide the owner/keeper's name, address, telephone number, and name and license number for the dog.
As a victim, you will likely be concerned about the cost of medical treatment. You may also be interested in compensation for suffering the trauma of a canine attack. California law is designed to fully compensate dog attack victims.
California's strict liability statute makes a dog's owner liable for the damage caused by their dog's bite, regardless of whether the dog has ever bitten a person before. This is true as long as the victim is in a public place or lawfully present in a private place. So, if a child hops a fence to recover a baseball, he may be trespassing, and the strict liability statute may not apply in this scenario.
The strict liability statute also applies to dog "bites." A large dog may be capable of other aggressive behavior that can cause injury. Those behaviors, on their own, do not appear to be covered by the language of the statute.
It's important to remember that the strict liability statute only applies to a dog's owner. If the dog is with some other keeper, such as a sitter or trainer, that other keeper will not be strictly liable. Some victims may prefer to sue someone other than the owner, especially if it's a means of deterring negligent conduct.
In a negligence case relating to dogs, an injured party has to show that the defendant failed to take proper care in securing the dog, and that this failure caused the injuries. It's easier to win a negligence case if the injured party can show that the defendant violated a law in his/her activities. Both the State of California and Orange County have several laws relating to dog care precautions.
Leashes and Restraints
Orange County's code requires any person in custody of a dog to keep it restrained by a fence, wall, chain, or leash. If restrained by leash, the person handling the dog must be "competent." This usually means that a bigger dog must be handled by an adult. If a dog's keeper violates Code Section 4-1-45, the keeper can be liable.
Potentially Dangerous and Vicious Dogs
A citizen may report to Animal Care or a law enforcement officer that a particular dog has been aggressive. The officer may then request a hearing to declare that the dog is either "potentially dangerous" or "vicious." If a court finds that the dog is potentially dangerous or vicious, the dog's owner must take extra precautions in handling and caring for the dog.
If a dog is potentially dangerous, the owner has an obligation to keep the dog either indoors or securely fenced in, so that the dog can't escape and children can't trespass. Notice that if a child hops a fence and is attacked by a potentially dangerous dog, the owner could potentially still be liable under this negligence theory.
If there is risk to the public, the city or county can prohibit the owner from retaining ownership, possession, or control of a dog for up to three years. If the owner fails to comply with the prohibition, and the dog harms someone, the owner will likely be liable.
In some cases, an owner may also be criminally liable for his/her pet's actions. If an owner knows that his/her dog tends to behave in a way that causes injury and fails to keep it properly restrained, the owner may be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. See FindLaw's resources on criminal cases in Orange County for more information on how criminal cases generally work.
Contact a qualified attorney.