Posted by Vine Marketing
On December 04, 2023

California’s Strict Liability for Dog Owners

What is Strict Liability?

Most all forms of law, whether criminal or civil, recognize the state of mind of the person who committed the act. In other words, there must have been some level of intent in the actions that caused the injury in order to hold someone liable. This intent could be negligence, failing to act with a reasonable amount of care, or it could be intentional, such as engaging in street racing. No matter the tort or crime, a defendant would usually not be responsible if they had no intent to act dangerously and had taken a reasonable amount of caution.

Strict liability is the exception to this rule. In strict liability cases, the defendant’s mindset has no bearing on whether or not they are responsible. There is no intent scrutiny at all under these standards. That does not mean there are no other defenses to these cases, but “I didn’t mean to,” won’t be an acceptable defense. Strict liability largely flips the burden of proof onto the defendant to prove they are not culpable for the injury.


When Does Strict Liability Apply?

Strict Liability is generally determined by the courts examining the law’s intent, though sometimes the law itself may openly state that certain defenses are not valid or that intent does not need to be proven. Many laws and torts have well-developed case law determining what level of liability is involved in a claim or charge.


Currently, the most common areas of law that recognize strict liability are the following civil cases:

1: Product Harm, injury caused by the reasonable use or function of an item or utility.

2: Animal Attacks, injuries caused by pets or livestock

3: Property liability, injuries caused by an unsafe property that you were injured on.

4: Abnormally Dangerous Activities, activities both legal and illegal that carry such an intense amount of risk that you assume all liability for any injuries that occur as a result.


Does Strict Liability Apply for Pets?

Whether the acts of a pet fall under strict liability varies by state. Several states operate under the “One Bite” rule that prevents a pet owner (usually a dog owner) from being held liable if their pet has never bitten anyone before and the owner had no reason to believe the pet was vicious. After the animal has bitten someone, strict liability applies for any future cases.

In CA, strict liability applies to dog bites right from the outset. The owner is liable for the animal’s behavior whether or not the owner knew the animal was vicious, or even whether they took reasonable care to prevent the bite. If the dog (or other animals) misbehaves and harms someone, the owner is responsible.

That’s not to say that there are no options for a defendant in these cases. In CA the bite must still cause actual injury. Surface scratches and being momentarily afraid of the animal rarely are going to be awarded any sort of damages. There are also certain instances in which the owner might not be held liable for an injury.


Defenses Against Strict Liability?

While strict liability prevents the defendant from asserting their intentions as a defense, the plaintiff’s intentions still matter. In cases of animal bites, if the plaintiff was acting inappropriately, then the liability can be placed on them for their injuries from the dog bite. As a rule of thumb, the defendant will not be held responsible if the plaintiff was,


1: Trespassing on the property where the dog was located. (This standard is case-by-case. Children trespassers have unique standards, for example.)

2: Antagonizing (taunting, teasing, hitting, or throwing things at) the dog

3: Committing a crime that would likely provoke a response from the dog, such as assaulting the dog’s owner.


How We Can Help

While CA’s strict liability laws about animal bites heavily favor a plaintiff, that doesn’t mean such a case is easy to win. Our team has the decades of experience that you need to get your case past the finish line and compensated for your injuries. If you’re looking for an experienced set of eyes on your case, please contact us and schedule a free consultation today.