Are Parents Liable if Their Child Is Bitten by a Dog in Santa Monica?

Parents are often outraged after their children are bitten by a neighborhood dog. They may seek legal action against the dog owner, hoping to bring him or her to justice for the pain and trauma the dog bite caused—but some will find that they themselves could be held responsible for the child’s injury.

Who Is Liable if a Child Is Bitten by a Dog in Santa Monica?

While California laws hold that dog owners are strictly liable for any bite injuries their animals cause, there are special exceptions to these rules when the victim is a child. One of the most important parts of these laws involve liability, as children may not be held legally responsible for their own actions. Adults—both parents and dog owners—may be held responsible for injuries if they exposed the child to unnecessary harm.

Adults can be held liable for dog bite injuries if a child is:

  • Under five years old. Under California law, a minor under the age of five cannot be responsible for negligence on his own behalf. If the injured child is under five, his parents do not have to prove that the child was not careful around the dog (in other words, the child cannot be found negligent). 
  • Obeying a parent’s directions. A child’s parents can be held liable for injuries if the child was acting under direct orders from the parents. Children under eighteen years old may be placed in harm’s way as a result of following their parent’s directions, such as if they are instructed to go into a neighbor’s house or retrieve a lost item from a neighbor’s yard. 
  • Too young to testify. If a child cannot testify on his own behalf, the burden of proof will be shifted to the defendant (in most cases, the dog’s owner). This is true if there is a significant probability that the injury was caused by a defendant's negligence. For instance, a minor child would not have access to the dog’s history of causing injuries, and may not recall the posting of Beware of Dog signs. The dog owner is more likely to have access to information about the dog and property, so it is up to him to prove that he was not negligent.
  • Injured in day care. Many children are bitten by dogs while in the care of adults other than their parents, including day care centers. Both dog owners and caretakers may be held liable if dangerous animals are permitted to wander unleashed among minor children.

California dog bite laws are aimed at protecting children, but in many cases, this may cause liability to fall on the parent. If a minor child is injured, parents should consult closely with an attorney to determine who is responsible for causing the injury—and who can be held liable for medical costs of the accident.

The attorneys at Steinberg Injury Lawyers will be happy to discuss your case with you free of charge, and can come to you if you are unable to travel. Contact us today to find out how we can help.