San Francisco Dog Bites: The Basics

San Francisco is the land of fog worshipers, tech geeks, startup millionaires and die-hard sports fans. What do most of these SF residents have in common? (Other than they all face high housing costs?) Many are happy dog owners. The rumors are true. Fido does outnumber children. Don't believe us? Walk down any street in the city of St. Francis and you'll probably see man's best friend bopping along next to his proud owners.

In a city so passionate about canine ownership (or the more politically correct term “pet guardianship”), you can only imagine what happens when Fido bites another person. A dog attack is very serious. It's not uncommon for dog bites to result in injuries, particularly in cases involving attacks on children or the elderly. In the worst instances, dog attacks may even result in death.

San Francisco dog owners are responsible for keeping their animals under control. It doesn't matter if you're at Dolores Park, Fort Funston, or Zazie on a Monday night. In most cases, if a dog attacks another person, the owner is legally responsible for that attack. Read on to learn more about the law surrounding dog bites in the City by the Bay.

California Dog Bite Statute

In California, the state law is found in the Cal. Civil Code Section 3342. Check out Section (a).

“The owner of any dog is liable for the damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner's knowledge of such viciousness.”

Ok, in short and in plain English -- if you own a dog, you are strictly liable (i.e. responsible) for any injuries your canine causes to another person.

Example of Lawfully Being on Private Property

If you were invited onto the dog owner's property as a guest or a potential customer, then you were lawfully on the property and may be able to recover for your injuries. Some examples are friends, family, social guests, contractors, postal employees, utility workers, newspaper carriers, and anyone else invited onto the property.

But if you're committing a crime (like trespassing), you may not be able to recover. Sorry, all you burglars out there. If a dog bites you while breaking and entering into a residence, you're probably out of luck.

What if the Dog Owner Didn't Know the Animal was Dangerous?

It doesn't matter. The owner doesn't have to be aware of any dangerous tendencies on their dog's part in order to be held liable for injuries. It also doesn't matter that the owner took measures to restrain the dog and protect the public from the dog, such as chaining it and putting up fences. The owner is strictly liable for every injury the dog causes another person, unless the other person was trespassing, provoking the dog, or both.

What if the Dog Owner or Keeper Knew His Dog Was Dangerous?

Even though California has a dog bite statute, you are still able to prove liability under traditional legal principles. This is where knowledge plays a prominent factor.

A dog owner or keeper can be held liable if he or she knows or has reason to know that his or her dog (or the dog in his or her care, custody, and control) has a propensity to bite humans.

You don't have to prove negligence on the part of the dog owner or keeper. It doesn't matter that the owner/keeper took reasonable steps to prevent the dog from biting someone such as using a restraint. The heart of the issue for this type of claim is prior dangerous behavior by the dog and knowledge of it on the part of the defendant.

Examples of a dangerous propensity to bite include a previous vicious bite or behavior that clearly demonstrated the dog's violent nature.

Proving that the owner or keeper knew the dog was dangerous or vicious can be tricky if there aren't documented past incidents. It may be inferred by the general reputation of the dog, the size and breed of the dog, or the fact that the dog is kept chained or muzzled.

Good to know: This rule applies to owners, keepers, and anyone else having custody, care, and control of the dog. Liability under Civil Code section 3342 applies only to dog owners.

Is There a Time Limit to Pursue My Dog Bite Case?

Yes, as a victim you have two years from the date of the dog bite to file a lawsuit. If you don't, you won't be able to pursue your lawsuit. The time limit is longer for minors and persons considered “mentally incompetent.”

Dog Owner's Homeowners or Renters Insurance Policy

Homeowners and renters insurance policies will sometimes cover animal bite claims brought by nonresidents of the home. Liability coverage ranges. If the claim exceeds policy limits, the dog owner can still be held personally liable for the balance.

If you or someone you know has suffered a serious injury because of a dog bite or attack, you may wish to consider speaking to a qualified legal professional or your local legal aid provider and learn more about what your options are in San Francisco.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

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