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My dog bit another dog that came into our property. Am I liable for it's vet bills?

Westminster, CA |

I live in California. My neighbors dog is always barking at my dogs and anything the walks by the fence, my dogs never pay to much attention to him but on occasions do bark back. Their dog is constantly aggravating my dog just barking with hostility, about three months ago their dog started barking at my dog and wouldn't go away, my dog came up to the fence and started barking back, my dogs mouth nor paws fit through the fence, their dog stuck his paw through our fence and our dog bit it, now they are suing us for vet bills. Our dog has no prior incidents of violence to other humans or animals, and hardly barks, unlike their dog that comes up to our fence and barks at our dogs. Am I liable for the vet bills since their dog came into my property?

Attorney Answers 7

  1. The short answer to this based on the facts you gave is "No."

  2. This is a tough question - if you have a homeowners insurance policy I would turn it over to them and let them defend against the claim - I can't answer yes or no - this will be a question of fact to be determined by a trier of fact

    we will not take any action on this case until we have a signed retainer agreement

  3. Based on the facts presented the answer is likely no. If you have homeowners insurance that covers dog bite claims, submit the claim to your insurance for handling.

    This information is not intended as legal advice or to create an attorney-client relationship between you and any attorney. Such information is intended for general informational purposes only.

  4. I'd consult a California lawyer about the common law of your state, but this is the state of the law according to the Restatement of Torts, second.

    Every dog gets one bite, so to speak. If your dog has bit someone or something before, then you are strictly liable for the damages your dog causes to people and to property. (An aside, dogs are property, so medical damages or the fair market value for the dog, whichever is less, will be what you owe for damage to a dog). Strict liability means that no amount of reasonable safety precautions taken by you will mitigate or change your liability. You must pay damages for the injuries your dog causes. Whether the damages were caused by your dog's bite and whether or not the person or person's property injured was somehow negligent are your only arguments to not pay.

    If your dog hasn't had his/her bite yet, then the plaintiff must show that you negligently kept your dog. This means that they must prove you owed a duty, that duty was breached, and that breach caused an injury that cost somebody money.

    The duty an owner and occupier of land is different depending on why the person injured is on the land. Different duties are owed to licensees (social guests in your home), invitees (like customers of a business), or trespassers. The duty also depends on whether the person or property was injured by actions by you on your land or by conditions.

    With your case, if keeping the dog is considered to be an action by you, you must do that action reasonably an prudently under the circumstances. If you don't have a fence or something, you could owe money. If keeping the dog is considered a condition on the land, you owe nothing, because you only owe duties to trespassers to protect them from potential injury from artificial conditions. Naturally occurring things like animals or lakes or streams are not your financial responsibility.

    So, it depends on your dog, whether your dog has bitten before, and whether a dog is a condition or action. Then you can truly know the answer.

    I write on premises liability here.

    Answering questions does not create an attorney/client relationship. I only am your attorney if I have entered into a written contract, signed by me, wherein I expressly assent to be your attorney. Nothing I post should be construed as legal advice to be acted upon, it is merely a legal opinion.

  5. Your home owner's liabilty insurance should help you determine your rights.

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