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The law regarding an owner’s liability for has evolved significantly over the years. Traditional legal analysis required that the injured party prove that the owner knew (or had “scienter”) of the dangerous propensity of the animal. The rule was thus “every dog gets one bite.”

Dog bites are so common and potentially serious, however, that many laws specific to dogs have been implemented to protect against the dangers posed by dogs. “Leash laws” were enacted to ensure that owners remain in control of their dogs, and the requirement of scienter has been eliminated and replaced by a policy imposing strict liability.

California Civil Code section 3342 provides that the owner of a dog who bites another person (other than a trespasser) is liable for the damage caused by the dog bite. In addition, the owner of the dog is responsible to remove the danger and if the dog has been involved in two or more incidents, criminal charges may be pursued (Code Civ. Proc. ยง 3342.5)


Livestock and Trespass to Farm and Agricultural Lands

Occasionally, dogs will cause damage to horses, cattle, or other valuable livestock. In these situations, there are various laws that add to the general dog bite rules.

Section 31501 of the California Agriculture Code provides for recovery of twice the actual value of any livestock killed by a dog. California Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.9 adds attorneys fees when a plaintiff proves damage as a result of trespass to land that is used for cultivation or raising of livestock.

For an example, see Haworth v. Lira, 232 Cal. App. 3d 1365 (1991), a case in which dogs killed a neighbor’s horses and the court awarded the neighbor double damages and attorney fees.


Although the majority of animal cases involve dogs, other animals can be the cause of injury and property damage. While general “negligence” principles apply that require animal owners to take reasonable precautions, there are often additional legal issues when animals are involved, particularly in cases involving livestock and farmland.