The general rule for domestic animals is that owners are not strictly liable unless they first have knowledge that their domestic animal is dangerous. This means that without this knowledge a person harmed by a domestic animal has to prove liability – usually by proving negligence, or that the dog’s owner failed to use reasonable care.
In the case of domestic dogs, however, California Civil Code section 3342(a) provides an exception. That law states: “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.” In other words, dog owners in California can be held responsible for the harm from a dog bite, no matter how carefully they guard or restrain their dogs.
This law is important because it establishes that persons harmed by domestic dogs do not need to prove liability – the dog’s owners are, in the eyes of the law, strictly liable for the dog’s actions so long as somebody is harmed. The owner is then responsible for all harm caused by their animals, including actual out-of-pocket costs and non-economic injuries such as pain and suffering. Homeowner’s insurance often provides coverage for incidents involving pets. Any time there is an incident involving a dog or animal bite, there are bound to be various issues with liability, damages and insurance coverage. It is therefore imperative that you speak with legal counsel as soon as possible regarding your legal rights.