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Mason Rashtian: What the law says about dog attacks

It's the Law

Posted: July 2, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Updated: July 2, 2010 4:55 a.m.

According to a 2007 statistic, about 37 percent of U.S. households owned a dog. More specifically, that is about 43,021,000 households in the United States that owned an average of 1.7 dogs. With so many dogs residing in the U.S., dog attacks are not uncommon. But what happens when a dog attacks and bites a person? How does the law treat dog-bite cases?

Dogs come in different breeds, sizes and temperaments. Dog bites can be very serious even when the bite comes from a small dog.

One can suffer serious physical injuries, including lacerations, scarring and even nerve damage.

Aside from physical injuries, one can suffer serious emotional injuries from a dog attack, leading to anxiety, depression and nightmares. If a dog bite is not properly cleaned, it can lead to an infection resulting in even more severe injuries.

If bitten, you should clean the wound immediately, using soap and warm water. Try to remember the dog's description, including breed, color and size. If the owner is identifiable, obtain all necessary information about him or her, including name, address and contact information. Further, take pictures of the bite wound(s) as soon as possible. You also need to find out if the dog is up to date on its shots. If the dog is a stray, you will need to undergo rabies treatment.

Your legal rights
California used to have the "one-bite" rule. However, this is no longer the case. Under Civil Code Section 3342, "the owner of a dog is liable to anyone bitten by their dog who is in a public place, or lawfully in a private place, including the dog owner's property regardless of whether the dog has ever bit anyone before and regardless of whether the owner knew the dog had bitten anyone before."

This means that dog owners are liable for their dog's actions even for first-time bites, even if the dog is restrained, and it makes no difference whether or not the dog had previously attacked someone else or has shown a propensity to be dangerous.

So for liability purposes, it makes no difference if the dog was a pit bull or a Chihuahua, or if the dog was bred to be in dog fights or was a household pet that, before the attack, never hurt a fly.

However, the law differs when it comes to the keeper of the dog (as opposed to the owner) and to landlords. To prove liability, an injured party would have to show negligence on the part of such individuals. This means that one has to show that the keeper of the dog and/or the landlord failed to act reasonably under the circumstances.

After proving liability, one has to show that the damages claimed were caused by the dog bite or dog attack. If there are physical injuries, one has to prove that the scarring or nerve damage is directly caused by the dog bite.

If there are emotional injuries, one has to prove that the anxiety or depression felt, and/or the nightmares experienced are related to the dog attack. Physical injuries are easier to prove because they can be objectively verified, while emotional injuries are harder to prove because they are subjective unless the injured party sought psychiatric treatment following the attack.

It is important to consult with an attorney, especially before speaking with the adverse party's insurance company or giving a statement. Do not fill out documents provided by the insurance company. This article strictly talks about California law. Laws in other states may differ.

Mason Rashtian is an attorney at the Mason Law Firm. He can be reached at His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "It's the Law" appears Fridays and rotates between members of the Santa Clarita Valley Bar Association. www/ Nothing contained herein shall be or is intended to be construed as providing legal advice.


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