Who is Liable for a Dog Bite in California?

Picture this: a peaceful walk in the California sunshine, the air filled with the scent of blooming flowers. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a sharp pain pierces through your leg, and you’re left startled and terrified by a dog bite. The physical wounds may heal, but the emotional scars can last a lifetime. In the Golden State, knowing who holds the leash of responsibility for a dog bite is paramount for both the injured party and the dog owner. Brace yourself for an enlightening journey as we unravel the intricate web of laws and regulations surrounding dog bites in California. Whether you’re a devoted dog owner, a potential victim, or simply fascinated by the legal side of our four-legged friends, this comprehensive guide will arm you with the knowledge you need to navigate the complex world of canine liabilities. So who’s liable for a dog bite in California? Let’s find out

California's Strict Liability Law:

Under California law, dog owners are generally held strictly liable for injuries caused by their dogs biting someone, regardless of the dog’s previous behavior or the owner’s knowledge of its aggressive tendencies. This means that the owner is responsible for damages even if their dog had never shown any signs of aggression before. This strict liability principle offers protection to victims of dog bites.

Exceptions to Strict Liability:

Although California’s strict liability law holds dog owners responsible for most dog bite incidents, there are certain exceptions to this rule. The following scenarios may impact liability:

  • Trespassing: If a person is bitten while unlawfully trespassing on private property, the dog owner’s liability may be reduced or eliminated.
  • Provocation: If the victim provoked the dog or participated in any activities that may have incited the dog to bite, it could affect the owner’s liability. However, children under the age of five are generally considered incapable of provoking a dog.
  • Working Dogs: Dogs that are engaged in military or police work, or those used to protect livestock, may have different liability rules depending on their specific duties. These dogs may have certain immunities from liability.

Comparative Negligence:

In California, the principle of comparative negligence governs dog bite claims. This legal doctrine acknowledges that the victim’s actions and level of responsibility can impact the damages they can claim. If the victim contributed to the incident through negligence, their compensation may be reduced proportionally to their level of fault. For instance, if the victim’s actions provoked the dog or they entered a clearly marked restricted area, their compensation may be adjusted accordingly. This approach fosters fairness and encourages responsible behavior from both dog owners and victims.

Insurance Coverage:

Homeowners’ insurance policies often include liability coverage for dog bite incidents. This coverage helps protect dog owners financially if their pet causes injury or harm to another person. However, it is crucial to note that some insurance companies may have breed-specific exclusions due to perceived higher risks associated with certain breeds. Dog owners must carefully review their policies to understand the coverage limits, exclusions, and any specific requirements related to dog ownership.

Steps to Take After a Dog Bite:

Who is Liable for a Dog Bite in California?

If you or someone you know is bitten by a dog in California, it’s essential to take certain steps to protect your rights and well-being:

  • Seek Medical Attention: Promptly seek medical care, even for seemingly minor bites, to prevent infections and ensure proper documentation of your injuries.
  • Identify the Owner: Gather information about the dog’s owner, including their name, contact details, and address. If possible, also obtain information from any witnesses present at the time of the incident.
  • Report the Incident: Contact local law enforcement or animal control to report the dog bite. This helps create an official record of the incident.
  • Document the Incident: Take photos of your injuries, record any details about the incident, and maintain a journal documenting your pain, emotional distress, and medical treatment.
  • Consult an Attorney: It’s advisable to consult a personal injury attorney experienced in dog bite cases. They can provide guidance, protect your rights, and help you pursue compensation.


Being aware of the liabilities surrounding dog bites in California is essential for both dog owners and potential victims. California’s strict liability law places a significant burden on dog owners, ensuring that victims are protected and compensated for their injuries. However, exceptions and comparative negligence play a role in determining liability. By understanding the law, knowing your rights, and taking appropriate steps after.

If you’d like to speak with a lawyer about your case, Contact Us or Book a Free Consultation Call below. We will explain the process for your case and the options you have available.


1 Does homeowners insurance cover dog bite liability in California?

In most cases, homeowners' insurance policies in California cover dog bite liability claims. However, some insurance companies may have breed-specific exclusions or restrictions due to perceived higher risks. It's important for dog owners to review their insurance policies carefully, understand the coverage limits, and check for any breed-related exclusions. If you're unsure about your coverage, contacting your insurance provider to discuss your policy specifics is recommended.

2 Are there any exceptions to the strict liability law for dog bites in California?

While California's strict liability law holds dog owners responsible for most dog bite incidents, there are a few exceptions to this rule. If the person who was bitten was unlawfully trespassing on private property or provoked the dog, the owner's liability may be reduced or eliminated. Additionally, certain working dogs, such as those engaged in military or police work or used to protect livestock, may have different liability rules depending on their specific duties. It's important to consult with a legal professional to understand how these exceptions may apply to your situation.

3 Am I always entitled to compensation if I'm bitten by a dog in California?

Under California's strict liability law, dog owners are generally held responsible for injuries caused by their dogs biting someone. However, certain factors can impact the liability and compensation you may receive. If you were trespassing, provoked the dog, or contributed to the incident through negligence, your compensation can be reduced proportionally to your level of fault. Consulting a personal injury attorney will help determine the strength of your case and the potential compensation you may be entitled to.

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