In a country where approximately 44 percent of all households have at least one dog for a pet (per the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), there are bound to be encounters that result in bites. A recent study indicates Orange County has an out-sized number of dog bite injuries.
The Orange County Register recently reported there are more than four bites a day, on average, in Orange County. Per year, that amounts to 1,500 dog bite injuries. That is probably a low-ball estimate too, considering it only covers reports made to Mission Viejo Animal Services, which covers five cities, as well as the Orange County Animal Control, which covers just 14 of the county's 34 cities. The number of bites is alarming, and it also underscores how commonly state animal control laws are broken. Many dog owners, even those who are seemingly well-meaning, are putting their animals and other people at risk of serious injury or even death.
There are numerous laws both at the state and county level that outline dog owner responsibility. Failure to abide these laws can be used as evidence the owner was negligent, and therefore must cover damages to those injured.
California Civil Code 3342(a) holds that the owner of any dog is responsible to cover the costs of injuries suffered by any person bitten by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in a private place - including the property of the owner of the dog. This provision applies regardless of whether the dog had previously been vicious or whether the owner was aware of the propensity for such viciousness. The only exception here is for dogs used by government agencies in police or military work or bites that happened while the dog was defending itself from someone who was provoking, harassing or annoying it.
At the county level, there are additional statutes that are imposed on dog owners. Orange County requires dogs be kept on leashes no longer than six feet. For a first-time violator, it's a $100 fine. It will cost $200 for a second offense and $500 for a three-time offender. Those who buy extender leashes could quickly find themselves in violation of this provision. What's more, they could be liable for a potential trip-and-fall if someone trips over the moving cord.
The statue also requires dog owners to maintain due control over their animal. Dog owners also aren't allowed to permit their dogs to be on public school property, in certain public parks or on any public beach.
Although any breed has the potential to be dangerous, the Orange County Animal Control office reports the top four breeds that consistently cause the most issues are:
- Labrador retrievers
- German shepherds
- Pit bulls
California is a strict liability dog bite state, which means dog owners are responsible for injuries caused by a dog bite, even if plaintiff is unable to show evidence the dog owner failed to use reasonable care to prevent the bite. However, proof of negligence may be necessary in certain cases where a dog causes injury, but not necessarily via bite (i.e., a large dog knocked you down on your bicycle).