California Law Brief

The following is a sample brief covering two aspects of California dog bite law, namely the strict liability statute and negligence per se for violating a leash law. This brief is suitable for a demand letter or mediation brief, and can be adapted easily for a trial brief:

John Doe and Jane Doe are 100% legally liable for Robert’s losses and damages. California has a strict liability dog bite statute “designed…to prevent dogs from being a hazard to the community.” (Davis v. Glaschler (1992) 11 Cal.App.4th 1392, 1399.) It does this by unequivocally placing the burden of dog bites upon those who choose to have dogs. The statute (California Civil Code section 3342) makes the owner of a dog strictly liable for any dog bite from the moment that ownership begins, provided that the victim was not trespassing, provoking the dog, injured by his employer’s dog while on the job, or performing a paid service involving the dog. The victim is not required to prove negligence or anything else. In pertinent part, the statute provides that “[t]he owner of any dog is liable for the damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness.” 

California also holds dog owners liable for injuries inflicted by a dog during a violation of an animal control ordinance. Delfino v. Sloan (1994) 20 Cal.App.4th 1429, holds that a local ordinance, penalizing an owner whose dog is unleashed while on public property, is an animal control law enacted to protect public health and safety. For that reason, the violation of a leash law or other animal control law constitutes negligence per se. “And if the evidence establishes that the plaintiff’s or defendant’s violation of the statute or ordinance proximately caused the injury and no excuse or justification for violation is shown by the evidence, responsibility may be fixed upon the violator without other proof of failure to exercise due care.” (Witkin, 6 Summary of California Law (9th Ed.), “Negligence Per Se,” sec. 818, pp. 170 et seq. See also Rollins v. Hedin (1952) 114 Cal.App.2d 488, in which the court stated that “[a] ‘leash ordinance’ such as here involved is designed for the protection of the public from dogs running at large and where its violation proximately causes injury to a plaintiff he may recover therefor against the owner.”)

It is not a defense, in a negligence per se action based upon violation of a leash law, that the dog was controlled by some means not enumerated in the ordinance itself. In Garson v. Juarique (1979) 99 Cal.App.3d 769, the court held that when an animal control law requires a particular action, such as keeping a dog on a physical leash, the requirement is not satisfied by taking a similar action, such as keeping a dog under verbal command.

At the time of this incident, the County of San Diego had in effect an ordinance which stated as follows: “Any person owning or having custody or control of a dog must at all times prevent the dog from attacking, biting, or injuring any person engaged in a lawful act, and from damaging or interfering with the lawful use of property.” (SDCC section 62.669.1.)

Any violation of the foregoing ordinance constitutes negligence per se in this state pursuant to the rule of Delfino v. Sloan (above). While it is hardly necessary for us to have more than one ground of liability, you probably know that it gives us an advantage at trial to do so. It permits us to introduce evidence of negligence and the violation of an ordinance, which are things that a jury takes into consideration when deciding a case. In other words, our case is stronger because of this violation.