Since the onset of Daylight Savings Time, San Diego animal control has received multiple reports from park visitors of unleashed dogs. Many San Diego area residents seem to be openly and blatantly violating area leash laws. Some have explained they don’t think having dogs roaming freely is a big deal, while others have cited a severe lack of area dog parks as the reason for intentionally violating the leash law.
Animal control has attempted to deter the behavior by issuing a significant number of citations, with penalties ranging from $50 to $400. Even though residents may be upset about a lack of dedicated dog parks they are required to abide by local ordinances. The leash laws are in place to keep park patrons safe from dog bites and other attacks. The number of dog bites in local parks is not significant, which may be in part due to the strict leash laws. When dog bites do happen, they can result in serious injury.
California Dog Bite Laws
Dog owners are responsible for any dog bites inflicted on public or most private property. California law dog laws impose strict liability on owners, which means that victims do not have to prove owners were negligent in handling, caring for, or watching their dog(s). Rather, an owner is responsible for the actions of his or her dog regardless of efforts to prevent bites or dangerous behavior.
Exceptions to Liability
California’s dog bite law can be found in California Civil Code 3342. The law provides a basis for civil action lawsuits for victims who are bitten by a dog in public or while lawfully on private property. The law also carves out exceptions, namely for law enforcement and military dogs and owners. In California, the police or military are not liable for the actions of a police or military dog if the dog was defending itself or assisting in official police business, including the:
- Apprehension or holding of a suspect;
- Investigation of a criminal offense;
- Execution of a search or arrest warrant; or
- Defense of a peace officer or other person.
Victims of dog bites who were trespassing on private property, instigated or provoked the dog, or injured by an employer’s dog on the job may be barred from recovering under California’s dog bite law. If, however, the victim was a child under the age of 5 who provoked the dog, the family may recover since provocation is a form of negligence. Recovery may not be completely barred in these situations, but damages may be reduced by the degree of negligence attributable to the victim.
Duty to Keep Others Safe from Dangerous Dogs
California residents who have dogs that have been labeled as either potentially dangerous or vicious have a duty to prevent future harm. California law requires owners who are aware of a dog’s previous aggressive behavior to take necessary and reasonable steps to remove any danger to others. This includes following local San Diego leash laws.
Damages for injuries caused by potentially dangerous or vicious dogs may be increased. In California, a potentially dangerous dog is defined as a dog who, when unprovoked one at least two separate occasions within the prior 36 month period:
- engages in behavior that requires a defensive action by a person to prevent bodily harm; or
- has killed, seriously bitten, inflicted injury, or otherwise caused harm attacking another’s domestic animal.
In California, a vicious dog is defined as a dog who:
- inflicts severe injury on or kills a human being without provocation; or
- was previously determined to be potentially dangerous and continues such behavior after the owner received notice.
Filing a Dog Bite Injury Claim
Dogs can be unpredictable, especially if they are in situations that make them uncomfortable. Leash laws aim to prevent dogs from inflicting injury, because even the gentlest dog can cause harm. Dog bite injuries must be reported and claims for injuries must generally be filed within two years of the incident. Claims for injuries from dog attacks from behavior other than bites may be filed on the basis of negligence.