California’s Dog Bite Liability Laws
In the United States owning a dog as a pet is a very common occurrence. A survey taken by the American Pet Products Association in 2015/16 stated that 77.8 million dogs are owned as pets across the nation. However, pet owners should be aware that owning a dog comes with a liability.
Does Homeowners Insurance Protect Dog Owners?The Insurance Information Institute in 2015 reported that "dog-bites and other dog-related injuries accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claim dollars paid out in the same year, costing more than $570 million". However, having homeowner's insurance is NOT a guarantee that the insurance company will pay a claim for a dog-bite incident occurring on your property. In many cases their policy agreement will include clear details as to whether specific breeds owned have been categorized as dangerous and therefore, not covered. Another influential factor is if the insurance company proves that, prior to the claim, other incidents had occurred wherein the homeowner was already aware that the dog was known as being vicious, regardless of its breed. It is important that all homeowners and landlords take the time to carefully review and read their insurance policies.
Why Dog Bites OccurOver the years, animal specialists and pet behaviorists have studied domesticated dogs to see what induces them to become aggressive and bite. Their findings show a variety of factors, such as, possessiveness, fear, pain, maternal and prey driven instinct, which can happen at any time and are not limited to a specific breed.
Dog Bite Liability LawsThere are three types of laws that impose liability on dog owners:
o A dog-bite statute: if the dog causes injuries or property damage without provocation, the dog owner is automatically liable (as in California).
o Negligence laws: if the injury occurred because the dog owner was unreasonably careless in controlling the dog, he/she is liable.
o The one-bite rule: if the owner knew the dog was likely to cause injury and property damage, the dog owner is responsible for any damages caused by a dog (in this case, the victim must prove the owner knew the dog was dangerous).
What if Liability is Unclear?When it comes to a dog bite injury, liability is not always clear. There are additional factors that come into play that can obscure who should be held liable. For example, responsibility for a dog bite can also include a landlord. If the landlord, or any representative of the landlord, was aware that a vicious dog lived on the property owned and had the opportunity to have the dog removed prior to an attack, they can be held liable for the injuries. With any dog bite injury, a thorough investigation of the evidence is needed in order to prove liability.