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Are animal owners strictly liable for animal bites in California?

On Behalf of | Apr 29, 2024 | Personal Injury |

Many California residents keep dogs and other animals as pets. Sometimes, even the calmest animals become aggressive and lash out. If you have been bitten by a dog or another animal, you may be entitled to damages to cover your:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost wages if your injuries cause you to miss work
  • Loss of earning capacity if your injuries prevent you from working the job you had prior to the incident
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Mental anguish and/or emotional distress
  • Permanent disfigurement and/or scarring

If you decide to file a personal injury claim after an animal bite, your approach will depend on the type of animal that bit you.


Under California law, dog owners are held strictly liable for dog bite injuries caused by their dog. The owner will be responsible for your injuries even if the dog had no history of violence and had never bitten anyone previously. However, there are several exceptions to the strict liability law. Dog owners may not be held liable for your injuries if:

  • You were trespassing at the time of the bite.
  • You provoked the dog.
  • You were suspected of a crime and the dog that bit you was a law enforcement dog.

Domestic animals other than dogs

If you were bitten by another domestic animal, the owner of that animal may be strictly liable if the animal had dangerous propensities (e.g., had bitten someone before) or trespassed on to your land.

If the owner is not strictly liable, you will have to show that their negligence caused the animal to bite you. Failure to properly secure the animal or failure to properly control the animal can be forms of negligence.

Wild animals

If someone is keeping a wild animal as a pet and that animal bites you, the owner will be strictly liable for your damages, even if they acted responsibly. This is because housing a wild animal is considered an inherently dangerous activity, no matter how careful the owner is.

Dealing with an animal bite can be a traumatic experience, but ensuring your rights are protected is paramount.