Most people probably agree pet owning is one of life’s joys, but it seems harder to get consensus that its one of life’s greatest responsibilities. Unfortunately, dog attacks can be surprisingly devastating injuries. In California, owners’ legal liability for those injuries is a powerful tool for public safety.

Strict liability

California’s laws allow holding dog owners “strictly liable” for injuries inflicted by their dogs. In some other states, for example, a “one bite” rule presumes the owner doesn’t know the dog is capable of inflicting injury until the dog has attacked before. In California, the owner is liable for the damage suffered.

Attach location doesn’t typically matter

The exceptions are few but can be important. This strict liability holds only if the attack happened in a public place or if the person attacked was on the owner’s property lawfully.

Being on the owner’s property lawfully means you’re there by an invitation explicitly expressed or somehow implied, such as the cable technician or neighbors following the owner into the yard during a conversation about the landscaping, and so on.

Lawfully being on the property can also mean the law allows them to be there, such as postal carriers delivering mail, police officers pursuing a suspect, or gas-meter readers.

If you’re there to commit burglary, graffiti, vandalism, voyeurism, or the like, the dog owner is not likely to be responsible for dog attacks.

Police dogs and harasseddogs may get a pass

Liability doesn’t extend to animals doing military or police work. You typically can’t sue for the bite of a police dog assisting in a reasonable arrest, executing a warrant, defending an innocent person and the like.

Also, if you’re attacking or harassing or annoying the dog, the law might not take your side.

Owners may be punishable by more than lawsuits

In some cases, owners might face charges and/or arrest. If a dog attacks, the owner must stick around a to provide their contact information.

Also, authorities may have already declared the dog to be “dangerous” or even “vicious” and the owner has been notified. Not securing such a dog, or a dog trained to attack, can be a felony if the dog seriously injures or kills someone.