California is notoriously one of the toughest states in America with regard to dog bite laws and liability. While most states only hold an owner liable if he knows or should know of his dog’s propensity for violence, California recognizes recovery rights for injured victims even if the dog has never bitten another animal or human in the past.
The California legislature is seeking to ensure that vicious dogs will not remain a hazard to the community. Not only has the legislature taken a proactive approach against dog bites and violence, but the judiciary has also interpreted the statutes in ways that hold dog owners virtually strictly liable for the acts of their canines.
Negligence-based dog bite claims can be based on a variety of unreasonable behaviors attributed directly to dog owners. In Barnett v. La Mesa Post, the court held that an owner can be negligent for the acts of his dog if found that the owner mishandled or failed to control the animal. The amount of control required varies in each unique situation. Drake v. Dean. Failure to leash a dog in violation of local leash laws is considered negligence per se.
This past Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors of Los Angeles voted in favor of amending ordinances with respect to vicious dogs and dog attacks. The new measures permit local authorities to categorize an animal as vicious under new definitions of the word. The new regulations do not require a bite or attack. Director of animal control Marcia Mayeda suggested that “if a dog’s charging at you down the street and you jump on top of a car to get out of the way, that’s a potentially dangerous dog.”
Currently, owners of dogs classified as vicious must muzzle the animal in public and/or keep him on a short leash. Many of these dogs are also required to attend training classes. Under the new ordinance, if animal control deems the canine to be a “significant threat to the public health, safety and welfare” it can immediately euthanize the animal.
The ordinance also provides cost effective methods for adjudicating disputes with owners that do not include the involvement of the always-busy Los Angeles Superior Court.