Dog Bite Liability in California

Dog bite liability laws vary from state to state. Many states have a “one free bite” policy, which does not hold the owner strictly liable if the dog has never bitten anyone and has never shown tendencies toward aggressive behavior. California has eliminated the “one free bite” policy. This means that a dog owner can be held strictly liable if their dog bites someone, even if it was the dog’s first bite or the dog never showed a tendency to bite. California’s dog bite liability is governed by California Civil Code Section 3342.

California’s Dog Bite Law

The law states that a dog owner will be subject to liability for damages caused by their dog if the damages were caused by a dog bite, and the person injured by the bite was in a public place or lawfully in a private residence. An exception exists for those bit by a dog involved in police and military work. This statute only applies to dog bites – no other injury that may have been caused by the dog. In situations where an injury is caused by a dog but was not a bite, California negligence rules would apply.

The statute of limitations (deadline to file a lawsuit) to file a personal injury claim, including a dog bite claim, is two years. This means that the injured plaintiff has two years after the bite occurred to file the lawsuit. The court will not hear a lawsuit filed after the two-year deadline has passed.

Strict Liability

For dog bite injuries, California is a strict liability state. Strict liability means that a dog owner is liable for the actions of her dog, even if she claims that she did not know that the dog had tendencies to act aggressively. Dog owners are therefore responsible for all damages resulting from a dog bite, so long as the person injured was in a public place or on private property without trespassing.


A dog owner can raise the defense that the injured party was trespassing when the dog bite occurred. An injured party who was trespassing on private property at the time of the bite injury may not be able to collect damages for their injuries. If the dog was carrying out duties for the government or military at the time of the bite, the government or military may raise the defense that the dog was working at the time, or that the injured party provoked the dog. The defenses available to the government or military officials only apply if the dog was carrying out their duties in that capacity at the time of the bite.

Contact the Leslie Legal Group

Dog bites are serious injuries. If you or a loved one has been injured by a dog bite, contact the Leslie Legal Group. Our experienced attorneys can assist you with your claim against the dog owner. We can help you receive compensation for the expenses related to the attack, including medical bills and emotional distress that has resulted. Contact us today for a free consultation.