What is Considered a Vicious Dog in California?

Please be advised that the following topic is for informational purposes only and not a legal matter currently handled by our firm. If you need further assistance regarding this particular topic, you can contact your local Bar Association for a referral to an attorney who may be able to address your inquiry in more detail.

Dogs are incredibly common in the United States, and although most don’t pose a significant threat to others, vicious dogs can cause serious and fatal injuries to adults and children. Every year, there are over 4.5 million dog bite attacks, many of which result in severe injuries. 

This issue is especially common in California, and there are an estimated 20,000 dog bite injuries in Los Angeles annually. If you suffer from a dog bite injury, you need to recover compensation for your bills. At Sally Morin Personal Injury Lawyers, we represent victims of dog bite personal injuries, and our attorneys can help you recover the damages you deserve for your medical bills and other associated expenses. 

What is Considered a Vicious Dog?

In California, the legal definition of a “vicious dog” has to do with their actions and not whether people consider the dog breed vicious. Many consider pit bulls to be the most vicious dog breed, but in order for a pit bull or another dog to be labeled vicious in California, they must cause severe or fatal injuries to a human while unprovoked. 

According to state code § 31603, vicious dogs in California are “Any dog that, when unprovoked, in an aggressive manner, inflicts severe injury on or kills a human being.” The code also states that a dog will be considered vicious if it’s “determined to be and currently listed as a potentially dangerous dog that, after its owner or keeper has been notified of this determination, continues the [potentially dangerous] behavior.” 

Difference Between a Vicious Dog and a Potentially Dangerous Dog

A dog that repeatedly engages in behaviors considered potentially dangerous may be labeled vicious, but there are differences between vicious dogs and potentially dangerous dogs. 

State code § 31602 outlines behaviors that may qualify as potentially dangerous. A dog may be considered potentially dangerous if it does something that requires a person to take defensive action, and the dog must be involved in two different instances within 36 months. Additionally, the dog must have taken action unprovoked, and the occurrence needs to have taken place away from the owner’s property. Also, a dog is considered potentially dangerous if they cause non-severe injuries to a human or if they cause significant or fatal injuries to a domestic animal. 

California authorities handle vicious dogs and potentially dangerous dogs differently. The differences include:

  • Termination: California counties can put down dogs considered vicious, but potentially dangerous dogs don’t face the same consequences.
  • Removal from the dangerous dogs list: If a dog is considered potentially dangerous, it can eventually be removed from the dangerous dogs list. The dog will likely be removed from the list if they don’t engage in potentially dangerous behaviors for at least 36 months. A vicious dog cannot be removed from the dangerous dogs list. 
  • Dog ownership: When authorities label a person’s dog “vicious,” the owner may not be allowed to obtain another dog for up to three years. If authorities determine that the owner taking custody of another dog is a threat to public safety, they can deny a person’s right to own another canine for 36 months. 

Severe Injuries Caused by Vicious Dogs

A major difference between vicious dogs and potentially dangerous dogs is that vicious dogs cause serious or fatal injuries. California code § 31604 defines severe injuries as any physical injury that results in: 

  • Muscle tears
  • Lacerations causing disfigurement
  • Injuries requiring multiple sutures
  • Injuries requiring corrective surgery
  • Injuries requiring cosmetic surgery 

Liability After a Vicious Dog Attack

California is a strict liability state, meaning that the dog’s owner is responsible for any damages the dog causes if it attacked someone unprovoked. A person can be held financially responsible for their dog’s actions even if the dog isn’t legally considered vicious. California code § 3342 says that dog owners are “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.”

Owning a vicious dog can also result in significant criminal penalties. If a person owns a dangerous dog and the canine injures or kills a human, the dog owner could face felony charges. 

Why You Need a California Dog-Bite Attorney

You need legal representation for your dog injury case. A California dog-bite attorney will help you recover damages by:

  • Determining the dog’s owner
  • Proving the dog attacked you unprovoked
  • Drawing a direct connection between the attack and your injuries
  • Either settling or winning your case in court

You may be able to recover compensation for medical bills — such as surgeries, prescriptions, physical therapy, and any other medical expenses — lost wages, loss of future earnings, pain and suffering, and more.

Here at Sally Morin Personal Injury Lawyers, we help Californians maximize the amount they can receive in compensation for personal injuries. Call our dog-bite lawyers today at 877-380-8852. 

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