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Dog Bites And The Law: Civil Versus Criminal Penalties

By Expert Author: R. Klettke

Pet Owners Can Face Civil and Criminal Penalties for Dog Bites


Dog owners can face fines and imprisonment in egregious dog bite incidences. Personal injury attorneys help victims recover their financial losses from attacks.


While most incidences of dog bites – and cause for hiring a dog bite attorney – are resolved in civil courts, there are situations where criminal charges can be levied against the owner of the attack dog. Offenses include failing to have a dog vaccinated prior to the attack, when the dog attack is so vicious that it causes death or serious bodily injury, and when the owner intentionally trains the dog to fight, attack and kill.


This third category – when a dog is intentionally trained to be aggressive and vicious – has captured headlines in recent years. The underground dog fighting circuit is surprisingly widespread, and laws across the country aimed at stopping it have become more stringent. In California, the criminal penalties for dog bites in any case where the owner encouraged fighting behavior can include:

Misdemeanor or felony charges punishable by imprisonment in a state facility for up to four years.

Fines up to $10,000.

Removal of the dog from its owner and sometimes its destruction.

The average dog owner is likely protected from these fines if they reasonably had no prior knowledge about the potential viciousness of their dog. A dog owner can also protect his or her self from civil or criminal exposure if they take necessary precautions to prevent dog bite attacks, such as leashing their dogs and keeping them confined to securely fenced areas.


When a dog does bite, the owner may be free of criminal charges but still need a dog bite defense attorney to defend himself or herself against the plaintiff (the dog bite victim) in a civil lawsuit. If the victim’s personal injury lawyer is successful on behalf of his or her client, the owner may need to cover costs stemming from medical care of the victim, reparative cosmetic surgery, psychological suffering post-attack and for pain and suffering. In some cases, judges have made punitive awards where negligence was particularly egregious.

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