Dog bite expert & animal behavior specialist

Richard H. Polsky, PhD, CDBC
Los Angeles, California

“Bringing the science of animal behavior to attorneys”

Dr. Richard Polsky - The Dog Expert

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California dog bite expert opinion about California leash laws

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 Californiatheme 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 on this basic theme, such as the length of the leash allowed, and whether voice control over the dog obivates the need for the dog being physically attached to a leash (as in Livermore, California).

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 choose to ignore the law and customarily let their dogs roam free off their property.

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 dog bite lawsuits, the defendant is liable for negligence per se if their dog causes injury to a person while at large in a public domain (excluding dog parks). Often this happens 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 bites or jumps on a person close to the dog’s “territory”.

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.

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 a allow a dog the ability to move further distances from the owner, and when this happens the control an owner has over the dog may be compromised. In one dog bite 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 of her.

One cannot assume that use of a leash will always give an owner or caregiver greater control over their 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 the 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 even if a leash is attached to the dog.