DON’T POKE THE BEAST! HOW YOU CAN ASSUME THE RISK OF A DOG BITE
Here in California, the “Dog Bite Statute” makes a dog’s owner responsible for injuries caused by their dog. Found at Civil Code, Section 3342, subdivision (a) of the statute reads:
“The owner of any dog is liable for the damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness.
A person is lawfully upon the private property of such owner within the meaning of this section when he is on such property in the performance of any duty imposed upon him by the laws of this state or by the laws or postal regulations of the United States, or when he is on such property upon the invitation, express or implied, of the owner.”
Generally, a dog’s owner is held responsible for injuries whether the dog had a history of aggressive or vicious behavior or not, and whether the owner knew of the dog’s history of that type of behavior or not.
However, despite this statute, a dog owner has available several defenses to liability, including “assumption of risk”. Were the person bitten to have teased, kicked, or otherwise provoked the dog prior to the bite, “the law should and would recognize the defense that the injured person by his conduct invited injury and therefore, assumed the risk thereof”. Smythe v. Schacht (Cal. App. 1949), 93 Cal. App. 2d 315. If the injured party, despite noticing a dog’s display of hostility, were to enter the dog’s pen, the law may determine the injured person voluntarily exposed himself to an obvious hazard. Gomes v. Byrne (Cal. 1959), 51 Cal. 2d 418. Even a veterinarian who is bitten by a dog while rendering care or treatment to the animal is said to have “assumed the risk” of the injury. See Prays v. Perryman (Cal. App. 2d Dist. 1989), 213 Cal. App. 3d 1133.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but instead intended to provide several examples of situations where an injured party was unable to obtain full and complete compensation for their dog bite injuries because they were found to have voluntarily exposed themselves to danger.