Dog Bite Law California Punitive Damages: All You Need to Know


Apart from the fact that the name “California” is sweet to call, it is also a sweet call for tourists seeking a destination so peculiar. Many states in the United States are peculiar, yh? Well, California isn’t left out. If you ever get to mention California without mentioning its strict laws on Dog-bite, I guess that mention is hell not-complete. Beyond just-laws, California has set up structures to ensure compensation for victims of Dog-bites. It is imperative to note that as much as victims can sue Dog-owners for damages, it’d be pointless to do so if and when the victim is well at fault. A Police Dog or Military Dog will not be considered dangerous or aggressive if it is working. If the victim as well trespasses on a Dog-owner’s property and sues for Dog-bites, such a lawsuit may never see the light of the day.

Unlike some other states that have a standing that owners are not liable for injuries caused by their Dogs, except (s)he knew that it had bitten someone before, California has a strict liability on Dog-owners, meaning that regardless of whether their dog has never shown any aggressive behavior before, Dog-owners are liable for their Dogs’ vicious behaviors. What a California! The Dog-bite law finds its root in California Civil Code Sub-section3342 and declares a Dog-owner liable for injuries caused by his dog’s bite, so far, the victim wasn’t trespassing at the time of the attack.


In a California Dog-bite case, damages can be seen either as compensatory or punitive. Compensatory damages are geared at making up for the monetary losses and pains of the victim. Going further, these damages are divided into two sections, namely Non-economic damages and Special damages. 

  1. Non-economic damages: Any loss or pain that is not related to money is known as Non-economic damages. Sometimes, such damages could be referred to as General damages. Since there is no precise monetary figure attached to pains, the damage is usually determined using the Multiplier method. The amount of damage or destruction wrought is usually multiplied by a value between the range of 1.5 to 5. If the attack was so brutal, you should expect that special damages would be increased by a 4, or as much as a 5. If the injury is so minor that it deserves a 1.5, this is the figure the special damage will be multiplied by. Sometimes, just sometimes, the time of recovery could be the determinant.
  2. Economic damages: This sort of damage is also referred to as Special damages, and this encompasses the amount of money the injury has cost. Damages of these sorts range from medical bills to lost wages, losses made as a result of the injury, and many more.
  • It is now easier to calculate Non-economic damages, with a crystal-clear understanding of Economic damages.


  • DAMAGES: Damages are sort of different from compensatory damages, not exact opposite, though. While compensatory damages are geared at making up for monetary losses and pains of the victim, Punitive damages are geared towards punishing the defendant for gross negligence and as well serve as a palpable deterrent to others who may choose to make such bad decision in the future. 


  • Stated these, it is important to state also that California allows a Dog-bite victim to get punitive damages, only under certain circumstances. Some of the conditions are:
  1. If the owner ordered the dog to attack the victim.
  2. If the dog has over time been vicious and the owner did nothing to curb its aggressiveness.

However, California’s state law would allow punitive damages in a personal injury case if the Plaintiff can prove that the defendant acted with malice, fraud, or oppression. However, there are specific definitions of “malice,” “fraud,” and “oppression” in California Civil Code section 3294. These definitions can be seen below:

  • Malice refers to any misconduct which is intended by the defendant with a conscious disregard for the safety of others or misconduct, which is carried out by the defendant to cause injury to the Plaintiff.
  • Fraud means intentional deceit or concealment of a material fact known to the defendant, with the intention of depriving a person of legal rights or property or perhaps causing injury.
  • Oppression is a misconduct that subjects a person to cruelty with a conscious disregard for the victim’s rights.


Insurance companies do not pay punitive damages, except of course, when there’s this exception: the acts of a person below the legal age that results in liability that is placed on his(her) parents. If this person was not listed as an insured person, an insurance company might have to pay. However, these payments have a limit.

In real terms, it is almost always a failed-course to embark upon, while trying to prove a case for punitive damages, as a victim. This is so, because the insurance company may go ahead and contend that it has no legal obligation to pay up to the extent of punitive damages if there is proof (or proofs) that the defendant’s actions were based on self-will. 

In bankruptcy, a victim’s claim for punitive damages may not see the light of the day, since the defendant has little or no assets nor insurance. However, if a defendant has assets that are within reach of the court, (s)he has a great deal to lose if punitive damages are awarded against her (him). 

Since all cases are different (and in fact, these laws vary from state to state), it is imperative (in fact mandatory) that victims who want to sue for punitive damages first hire a competent attorney to review the case (s)he would be presenting. For example, some cases against employers and corporations may need a cogent analysis as against the individual. California Civil Code section 3294 states that an employer shall not be liable for punitive damages, based upon acts of an employee of the employer unless the employer had an advance knowledge of the unfitness of the employee and employed him or her with a conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others or authorized or ratified the wrongful conduct for which damages are awarded or were personally guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice. 

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Dr. Jason Williams

Dr. Jason Williams has served the veterinary field for over 26 years. After graduating from the Prestigious University of California--Davis. He has practiced in both the large and small animal sectors. His experience with Animals is immeasurable. Dr. Jason has found pleasure helping pet owners find the best information they'll ever need for their pets(companion). He currently has 20 pets and is dedicated to sharing from his wealth of experience to pet owners all over the world.

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