In dog bite lawsuits, dog bite expert opinion about California leash laws could be used to educate a jury about the necessity and value of these kind of laws. The common theme found in most leash law regulations state that a when a dog is on public property, it must be attached to a leash leash held by a competent person. Hence, in principle, leash laws are designed to protect the public from dogs running at large. Different jurisdictions often have variations and caveats on this basic theme, such as the length of the leash allowed, the ability of the person holding the leash, and in some instances whether voice control over the dog precludes the need for the dog being physically attached to a leash.
The leash law for the County of Los Angeles, California (Section 10.32.010) states:
“No person owning or having charge, care, custody or control of any dog shall cause, permit or allow the same to be or to run at large upon any highway, street, lane, alley, court or other public place, or upon any private property or premises other than those of the person owning or having charge, care, custody or control of such dog, in the unincorporated area of the county of Los Angeles, unless such dog be restrained by a substantial chain or leash not exceeding six feet in length and is in the charge, care, custody or control of a competent person.”
Note however some rural jurisdictions in California may not have leash laws. So although these kinds of laws are pervasive, they are not universal. In fact, even if leash laws exist in a rural areas, owners often choose to ignore the law.
Why leash laws?
Leash laws are pervasive because they are designed to protect public safety. Lawmakers apparently reasoned that off leash dogs might become unpredictable, uncontrollable and aggressive when off leash in the public domain; hence, the need for these kinds of laws.
In California, the dog owner is liable for negligence per se if their dog causes injury to a person while off- leash in a public domain (excluding dog parks). This may happen after the dog escapes from the owner’s property (e.g.through an open door, a poorly latched gate, through an open window, a hole in a fence, etc.) and causes injury to a person either by either biting, jumping or frightening that person. In those situations where the dog resided on the property of a landlord, then the landlord may also be liable if he/she knew or should have known that escape from the property by the dog was a likely possibility.
Examples of lawsuits involving violation of leash laws
In one dog bite lawsuit, an off-leash Rottweiler chased a man who was working on the property where the dog lived. The man tried to escape by running from the dog, but unfortunately ran into into the street and was hit by a car and killed. In another case, an elderly lady was driving her car on a rural highway, tried to swerve to avoid hitting a off-leash leash dog. She crashed her car in in a ditch and was severely injured. In another dog bite case, the dog escaped from the property of its owner and began running around excitedly in the street of a residential neighborhood. A neighbor tried to catch the dog by wrestling it to the ground after several unsuccessful attempts by its owner. However, in doing so he was bitten on the arm by the dog. The plaintiff argued that the jurisdiction’s applied in this case because when the bite was inflicted, the dog was at-large, off leash. However, defense argued that the plaintiff in his attempts to capture the dog assumed the risk of being bitten, and therefore was comparatively at fault for his injury. Plaintiff argued that he was acting in good faith in trying to catch an off leash dog that potentially could have caused more serious problems for public safety and for the dog itself.
In another lawsuit, the owner was walking her dog on a fully extended, unlocked retractable leash in a residential area. She was about to turn the corner, when suddenly the dog, who was about 15 feet in front, suddenly encountered an unfamiliar person coming from the opposite direction. The dog became startled and bit the plaintiff on his leg. Plaintiff argued that the incident could have been avoided if the owner had not allowed the dog to extend itself that far in front.
An issue that occasionally arises in some dog bite cases is the degree of control an owner has when using a retractable leash, particularly when the leash is in the unlocked position. Most retractable leashes when they are unlocked allow a dog to move further distances from the owner (up to 30 ft. depending on the type of retractable leash). When this happens the control an owner has over the dog may be compromised.
Moreover, one cannot assume that use of a conventional leash will always give an owner greater control over a dog. Loss of control of a leashed dog may happen in certain circumstances: for example, dog-dog encounters while the dog is being walked. California leash laws assume that having a conventional leash attached to the dog while in a public domain will afford an owner greater control over the dog. However, this may not always happen because some owners will have difficulty controlling certain dogs (e.g. a dog who has not been properly trained) even if a leash is attached to the dog.
Dr. Polsky’s recommended sites to visit about leash laws and dog law in California
- Popular website that covers all aspects of personal injury law and sections about the law all relevant to dog bites and leash laws in California
- Information from city of Los Angeles about the law pertaining to the chaining of dogs
- Website summarizing animal control laws in the County of San Diego, California
- Highly authoritative and trusted website from Michigan State University School of Law. Provides comprehensive review of the law as it pertains to dogs in California.