Can I Sue the Owner for a Dog Bite?

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Bites from a wild or pet dog are frequent. According to one insurance company, California has more dog bites than any other state. Children are more often victims than adults. The bites occur on both private and public property, with more than half occurring at home. This article addresses dog bite law and who is responsible.


California has a dog bite law. It says that an owner of a dog is liable for damages if a person is bitten in a public place or lawfully in a private site such as a home. It doesn’t matter if the dog is on a leash or not.

For example, the owner of a leashed dog is liable if that dog attacks someone at a park or school. The owner is also responsible if the dog bites a guest in the owner’s home.

It doesn’t matter if the dog had never bitten anybody in the past.

A landlord is liable for a tenant dog’s attack on a third person if:

– the landlord had actual knowledge the dog had a vicious propensity; and

   the landlord could have prevented the harm.


Dog bites can be severe. The attack can result in rabies or infection. Symptoms of a dog bite include swelling, redness, or oozing from the wound. Disfigurement and scarring can occur. Anyone who has suffered a bite should seek treatment immediately.

An unleashed dog can cause other types of injuries that are recoverable from the owner.  In one case, a dog ran after a person. The person ran into the street and was hit by a car and suffered injuries. The owner was responsible. In another, a dog knocked someone off a bicycle on a sidewalk causing damage to the rider. The owner was responsible.


The question is ‘can I sue the owner for a dog bite?’ The owner of the dog is liable for “economic” and “non-economic” damages.  Economic losses include medical bills and lost wages. Non-economic harms include pain and suffering.

When a dog has bitten a person on at least two occasions, anyone can bring an action against the owner to determine whether the dog should be removed from the owner or destroyed.


We recommend the following action after a dog attack:

  1. Locate the owner
  2. Obtain veterinarian information from the owner to determine if shots are current                         
  3. Take photographs of yourself and the scene
  4. Obtain contact information from witnesses   
  5. Seek immediate treatment


A dog owner assumes the responsibility if his or her dog attacks another. If you have been the victim of a dog bite, schedule a free consultation with MCIS.