Dog bite laws differ from state to state. California has enacted dog bite statutes under which a dog owner can be found strictly liable for injuries caused by his dog. California passed a statute that eliminated the one-free bite rule by holding a dog owner liable even if the dog has never bitten anyone or shown a tendency to bite. Under this statute, liability is based upon ownership and the dogs past behavior is irrelevant. In California, a victim of a dog bite only needs to show that: the defendant owned the dog; the bite took place on public property or while the victim was lawfully on private property; the dog actually bit the victim; and the victim was injured by the dog.
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The dog bite statute is limited based on lack of ownership of the dog. If the defendant is not an owner California law states A keeper, in contrast to an owner, is not an insurer of the good behavior of a dog, but must have scienter or knowledge of the vicious propensities of the animal before liability for injuries inflicted by such animal shall attach to him. (Buffington v. Nicholson (1947). Trespass is a defense under the California dog bite statute. The dog owner may not be liable if the victim trespassed upon property where the attack occurred. However, the victim may be able to sue for negligence. The dog bite statute protects a victim for a while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog. (Fullerton v. Conan (1948). This prevents trespassers from obtaining recovery. Civil Code section 3342 imposes strict liability in all instances where the victim is not a trespasser and the dog was not on duty for the military or the police. California courts have denied recovery to victims who either provoked the dog, negligently caused the attack, or assumed the risk of dog attack. The statutes strict liability provisions apply to injuries caused by an actual bite. If the victim was injured by being jumped on or knocked down, for example, any recovery would be under a negligence theory. These are for cases when an actual bite did not occur.