How does the law deal with dangerous dogs in California?

In our blog post about dog bites a few weeks ago, we referred to “vicious dogs” attacking and injuring people. (You can read that post here.) In California, “vicious dog” is a legal designation applied to certain dogs, which can lead to authorities requiring the dog be restrained or destroyed.

State law defines a “vicious dog” in part as either:

1. A dog which, aggressively and unprovoked, inflicts “severe injury” on a human being or kills that human being; or

2. A dog that is currently designated a “potentially dangerous dog” and continues the behavior that gave it that designation, when the owner is aware of the designation.

As the term implies, a “potentially dangerous dog” has not caused as much harm as a vicious dog, but still has engaged in attacks that caught authorities’ attention. To be labeled “potentially dangerous,” a dog must either:

1. Twice within 36 months, while off its owner’s property, engage in unprovoked “behavior that requires a defensive action by any person to prevent bodily injury;”

2. Bites a person when unprovoked and causes less than severe injury; or

3. Twice within 36 months, when unprovoked and off its owner’s property, killed or injured another domestic animal.

Owners may keep a potentially dangerous dog, but the law requires that they keep the dog indoors or within a securely fenced yard at all times, or on a “substantial leash, of appropriate length” being held by a responsible adult. Once a dog has been named vicious, local animal control can destroy it, or the court must impose conditions on the owner to protect the dog from the public.

For the victim of a dog bite, punishing the animal or its owner may be less important than getting compensation for his or her injuries. The first step in pursuing a claim is to find an experienced personal injury attorney to help you.

Source: Cal. Food & Agric. Code Ann. § 31603 (West)

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