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Landlord Liability for Dog Bites in California


January 3, 2022

California is one of a few states in the United States that has a “strict liability statute for dog bites”.

Specifically, California Civil Code section 3342 states: “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.”

This means, with a few exceptions, that a dog owner will almost always be liable to pay damages for injuries caused by his or her dog. To that end, dog owners’ homeowners’ insurance policies often include coverage for dog bite liability.

When Landlords May Be Liable for Dog Bite Injuries Caused by a Tenant’s Dog

Not all dog owners have homeowners’ insurance policies. Furthermore, not all dog owners even own their own homes. Indeed, many tenants in California are dog owners but do not have the requisite insurance to cover injuries caused by their dogs.

The good news: a person injured by a tenants’ vicious dog is not always out of luck. In California, landlords can be liable for damages caused by their tenants’ dogs.

Unlike a dog owner’s liability for dog bites, a landlord’s liability for dog bites is not a strict liability tort. This means that a landlord is not automatically liable if a tenant’s dog bites a victim in a public place or while lawfully in a private place.

Instead, landlord liability is governed by the two-part test adopted in the 1975 case Uccello v. Laundenslayer.

  1. First, the landlord must have knowledge of the dog’s vicious nature. Importantly, this knowledge can be proven either by actual knowledge or circumstantial knowledge.
  2. Second, the landlord must have had the ability to prevent foreseeable harm. This means that the landlord must have had sufficient control over the situation to have been able to prevent the dangerous bite. For example, a landlord would have sufficient control if the landlord had the right to insist that a tenant remove the dog from the apartment. (Dennis v. City of Orange.)

Case Study: 1995 Landlord Liability Proved for Dog Bite Personal Injury

Donchin v. Guerrero, a case that went before the California Court of Appeals in 1995, demonstrates how the Courts apply the two-part test for landlord liability for dog bites.

In Donchin, a woman (“Jane Doe”) took her Shihtzu dog for a walk around the block. Less than a block from home, Jane Doe and her Shihtzu were attacked by a pair of Rottweilers, who had escaped from a nearby apartment complex. During the altercation, Jane Doe was thrown to the ground and broke her hip.

Jane Doe sued the dog owner and the owner of the apartment building in which the dog owner lived. Specifically, Jane Doe alleged that the landlord knew that the dog was in the premises, that the dog had dangerous propensities, and had the ability to control the problem before it happened.

When the landlord attempted to dismiss the case, Jane Doe presented evidence in the form of sworn declarations from a postal worker and a neighbor that the landlord knew the dog had vicious propensities. Further, Jane Doe presented an expert report from a dog bite expert stating that if the dogs had dangerous propensities towards the mail carrier and neighbors, the dogs “probably acted vicious towards others.”

Because Jane Doe was able to compile this evidence, she was able to have her day in court to seek damages from the landlord.

Los Angeles and California Dog Bite Injury Law

Unfortunately, dog bite injuries are common and even deadly. The odds of dying from a dog attack are 1 over 100K. Between 4.5-4.7 million suffered from dog bites annually in the US. (Read through our collection of statistics here: 25+ Important Dog Bite Statistics & Bites by Breed.)

One such avenue, if applicable, is to pursue the dog owner’s landlord. The attorneys at MKP Law Group, LLP have years of experience representing dog bite victims including actions against both dog owners and landlords. Contact MKP Law Group, LLP today at 310-285-5353 to speak with one of our attorneys. All consultations are 100% free.