Legally reviewed by:
Setareh Law
January 14, 2024

In California, you may not have liability if your dog only attacked someone after that person provoked it. As a dog owner, you are held strictly liable for injuries your dog causes by biting another individual, and you are also liable for other non-bite harm your dog inflicts if you bear some responsibility in failing to prevent the attack. But in either case, provocation of your dog by the person attacked can potentially reduce or eliminate your liability.

Our team at Setareh Law can help represent you following a dog bite accident to ensure that you get the compensation you deserve. 

Overview of Dog Attack Liability Laws in California

In California, owners can be held liable for the harm their dogs cause to others. The rules differ, however, depending on whether the harm consists of a bite or some other injury inflicted in an attack.

California Civil Code §3342 holds owners strictly liable for any damages suffered by a person who is bitten by their dog in a public place or while lawfully present in a private place. This means that regardless of the dog’s past behavior or the owner’s knowledge of its aggressiveness, they are still liable for the bite-related injuries their dog may inflict.

The victim of the attack does not need to prove that the dog owner was negligent or knew their dog had a propensity to bite. A dog owner can be held liable even if the dog has never shown signs of aggressiveness or has never bitten anyone before.

How Provocation of a Dog Affects the Owner’s Liability in California

A victim’s provocation of a dog before it attacks may reduce or eliminate the owner’s liability. Provocation generally consists of any action or behavior that incites or encourages a dog to behave aggressively. It can range from a child tugging on the dog’s ear or tail to someone hitting or threatening the dog. A provocation may not necessarily be violent or aggressive – even petting or touching a dog can amount to provocation under certain circumstances.

California courts recognize provocation as a partial or total exception to liability for a dog attack, regardless of whether the victim sustains a bite or other injury. By applying a legal principle known as comparative fault, courts assign blame for a dog attack among all parties who may have contributed to it occurring, including the victim.

To establish the defense of provocation, the dog owner must present evidence to prove that the person injured incited the dog and that the dog’s reaction was a direct response to that behavior. The critical aspect here is that the provoking action must be substantial enough to cause the dog to react in an aggressive manner and for the victim to have reasonably known that could happen. For example, petting a dog without first asking the owner if the dog is friendly might amount to provocation, whereas petting a dog only after the owner gives the okay to do so might not.

Contact a California Dog Attack Lawyer at Setareh Law Today

A dog attack in California can inflict severe injuries and losses. If a dog bites and harms another individual, the owner will typically face strict liability for the victim’s damages. However, the owner’s liability can be reduced by the degree of fault that will be attributed to the victim for provoking the attack. 

If you or someone you love sustained injuries in a dog attack in California, contact us online or call us at (310) 659-1826 for a free consultation to learn about your rights. Our team also speaks Spanish.