blog home Dog Bites and Attacks I Was Bitten by a Dog! Who Is Responsible?

By Renee Nordstrand on September 30, 2017

two angry dogs fighting

In California the owner of a dog is liable for damages if that dog bites someone.

Strict Liability in California

California law makes the owner of a dog strictly liable for civil damages if that dog bites someone. This means that even if the dog’s behavior was previously only friendly and the owner had no expectation that the dog would bite, the owner is still responsible for the bite. As long as you are on public property or legally on someone’s property when his dog bites you, you can bring a civil claim against the dog owner.

Other parties may also be liable for a dog bite including a property owner who allows a known dangerous dog on the property. Facts vary with each case and a determination as to who is responsible for damages caused by a dog bite is fact-specific.


Although a dog owner or property owner may be liable for damages caused by a dog bite, there are two defenses that may be asserted when the facts apply.

The two most common defenses against such a claim are trespassing and provocation. California statutes specifically state that a person must be bitten at a public location or when on someone’s property by invitation or other legal reason. If someone is bitten while illegally trespassing, then the dog owner may be excused from liability. Liability can also be avoided if the dog was provoked into biting a person. Provocation in this sense does not mean yelling or taunting, but requires physical violence against the dog or a similar condition.

Law enforcement and the military cannot be held liable for dog bites by service animals that are performing their duties in California. This means that if a police dog bites you during an arrest, you cannot bring a civil claim against the state or local police for the bite. You may be able to show that the use of the dog was unnecessary and that the police overreacted to the situation, but that does not fall under dog bite laws.

If you or someone you know has been bitten by a dog, then call the Santa Barbara dog bite lawyers at NordstrandBlack PC today at (805) 962-2022 to discuss your case and options available to you.