The owner of any dog is liable when the dog bites someone in public or lawfully in a private place.
California law provides that the owner of a dog is liable for the damages suffered by anyone who is bitten while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the dog owner’s property. The fact that a dog does not have prior attacks, or that the owner has no awareness of a dog’s viciousness, is not determinative.
The California dog bite statute can impute “strict liability” on the owners of animals. Strict liability means that a person is liable for damages even if the person used ordinary care, and therefore was not negligent in keeping or controlling the animal. The keeper’s liability is said to be absolute in the sense that the gist of the action is not how the animal was kept, but that it was kept at all in light of its dangerous propensities. A plaintiff who can prove the animal’s dangerous nature or trait and the keeper’s “knowledge” of it, need not prove negligence in failing to restrain or confine it. Actual notice is not required. An owner’s knowledge can be “constructive” wherein an owner can be liable if he or she could have learned of the propensity through reasonable inquiry. Additionally, an owner may be liable if his employees, agents, partners or family knew of the animal’s dangerous propensities.