Generally, neither Orange County nor the state of California has laws banning specific dog breeds. However, there can be local organizations, such as homeowner’s associations or rental groups and landlords, that will ban specific breeds, often those that fit into the pitbull classification. Anyone moving into a rental property or neighborhood with a homeowner’s association should read the contractual fine print to understand what dogs are and are not allowed.

What Does California Law Say About Dog Bites?

Unlike several other states, California considers dog owners responsible for dog bites whether or not they had any inkling that the dog might bite. Many states have “one bite” laws, which mean that the dog owner isn’t liable the first time a dog bites because they would have had no reason to expect the dog to be a biter. In California, dog owners are responsible for dog bites even on the first occurrence, as long as the person bitten was in a public place or legally on the dog owner’s property.

What About Potentially Dangerous or Vicious Dogs in California?

While there are no state or Orange County laws prohibiting specific dog breeds, California does have laws around potentially dangerous or vicious dogs. The law states that these dogs must be licensed and fully vaccinated. When on the dog owner’s property, they must either be indoors, in a kennel, or a fenced yard. When away from the dog owner’s property, they must be leashed and under the control of an adult the entire time.

A potentially dangerous dog is defined as one that:

  • Bites someone, causing an injury.
  • Did something while away from the owner’s property that caused someone else to need to take defensive action to avoid injury.
  • Harmed or killed another pet while away from the dog owner’s property.
  • A vicious dog is defined as one that:
  • Has been identified to be a potentially dangerous dog, as described above, and continues to exhibit aggressive behavior.
  • Was used by its owner for dog fighting and was seized by the authorities for that (dog fighting being illegal in California).
  • Caused significant injuries or even killed someone who did not provoke the dog.

Who or What Agencies Can Identify Dogs as Potentially Dangerous or Vicious?

Animal control or police officers can conduct investigations and determine if a dog fits either category, or the matter can be handled in court, which can do the same. If any of these groups determine the dog to be an immediate danger to the public, they have the right to take the dog away from its owner.

Once a dog has been identified as potentially dangerous or vicious, the owner is required to use adequate care to prevent the dog from causing harm. Suppose the owner is negligent, and the dog causes severe injuries or death to another person. In that case, the owner could be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the seriousness of the situation. A misdemeanor conviction can lead to up to six months in county jail, while a felony conviction can result in up to three years in county jail.

Are There Any Situations in Which the Dog Owner Is Not Held Liable for the Dog Biting Someone?

While California is stricter than many states and deems dog owners liable on the first offense, there are some situations in which the dog owner may not be considered responsible, including:

  • If the bitten person provoked the dog.
  • If the bitten person trespassed on private property, including the dog owner’s property.
  • The military or police used the dog appropriately in the duty line.
  • According to California self-defense laws, the dog acted to protect its owner or someone else.

What Damages Am I Eligible for if I Was Bitten by a Dog?

California allows for compensatory damages as long as the person bitten didn’t match any of the exclusions listed above. That can include monetary awards to reimburse the victim for medical expenses, lost wages, physical or occupational therapy, or any mental health treatment. The victim could also potentially be awarded compensation for any scarring or disability and pain or suffering resulting from the dog attack. California doesn’t have caps on these types of compensation.

What Happens to the Dog?

Usually, a dog that bites someone will be quarantined for ten days to determine if the dog has rabies. It’s not a given that the dog would be euthanized, especially if it’s determined that the dog may be habitable.

However, local animal control departments do have the right to euthanize a dog identified as vicious if they identify the dog as dangerous to public health or safety.

What Should I Do if Was Bitten by a Dog?

First, see a medical professional to determine the severity of the bite and its potential long-term effects and required treatments. Then call us as soon as possible at (951)554-1010 to request a free consultation. Dog bites can be terrifying, and they can cause extensive damage. We’ll help you sort out the liability and damages due.

If the dog owner’s insurance representative or attorney tries to contact you, do not speak with them, exchange written communications of any kind, or sign any agreements. Their job is to try to get you to say something that could be interpreted as you taking responsibility for the bite. They may also try to get you to agree to a settlement far lower than you may be able to get. Don’t answer any questions, but simply refer all communications from them to your attorney.