Do ‘Beware of Dog’ Signs Affect Liability For Dog Bites?
You might think that using a ‘beware of dog’ sign might offset any liability for the behaviors of the dog. The owner can argue that the sign indicated that the dog posed a risk, and the victim took the risk and interacted with it regardless. However, in the state of California, this is not the case.
Owners May Try To Use The Sign as a Defense
A ‘beware of dog’ sign does not stand well against the state’s strict liability rules, which provide that the owner of the dog is generally responsible for a bite, regardless if the victim was warned, or if the owner had prior knowledge that the dog was dangerous. If you are the victim of a dog bite, or if your dog has bitten someone, you need to enlist the help of an experienced dog bite attorney to help guide you through your case.
As previously mentioned, the most common defense, and how the sign may help the property owner, is the argument that the sign warned the victim.
This is called an “assumption of risk”, a legal doctrine that states that the victim was warned, and knowingly and willingly put themselves in a dangerous situation regardless. The property owner could argue that the sign served as a clear warning, and the victim willingly interacted with the dog anyway.
However, this is a weak defense, as state law provides that the dog’s owner does not need to be aware of any previous tendencies to bite people, in order for them to be liable for the dog’s actions.
The strongest defense for the property owner is to prove that the victim was trespassing on their property. To claim damages, the victim must prove that they were lawfully on the property. Therefore, if the owner can prove that the victim took the risk of interacting with the dog, and was unlawfully on the property, then they have a very strong defense against being sued for damages.
This means that if the victim is a mailman or meter man, they are not trespassing, this defense would not apply, and the sign offers no protection. This also applies to guests. However, anyone else who does not have a legal reason, or was not personally invited to be on the property. could potentially be shown to have been trespassing.
The Scenarios In Which a Sign Wouldn’t Help a Property Owner
Other scenarios in which the sign offers no protection for the owner is if the sign itself is damaged. If the sign is hidden, or is in poor condition with faded and illegible text, it is considered void and cannot protect the owner. Similarly, if the sign is present, but the dog escapes due to a faulty fence or a defense on their leash, then the sign has no protective effect.
If the victim can prove that they were lawfully on the property and the dog bit them, then they have a fairly strong case in which the sign offers little protection. That said, it is difficult for the owner of a dog to offset any liability for the dog’s bite, despite the presence of a ‘beware of dog’ sign.
Similarly, the victim of a dog bite might have a hard time collating all the facts of their case to apply for damages. This is why both parties involved in a dog bite incident need the help of an experienced attorney.
We Can Help You Today
Here at The Law Firm of Joseph H. Low IV, we have years of experience in dealing with personal injury claims and defense.
If you have been the victim of a dog bite, or your dog has bitten someone and you are being sued, call us today at (562) 901-0840 to consult with an experienced lawyer.