The California dog bite statute holds dog owners strictly liable when their dog bites another person in a public place or lawfully in a private place. The rationale behind the dog bite statute and its effect of making dog owners 100% liable when their dog bites another is to make the dog owner bear the risk in the event their dog bites another, as it is the dog owner who has created that risk for society by owning the dog. In other words, instead of society and its members bearing the risk of dog bites, the legislature has made dog owners bear that risk to prevent dogs from becoming hazards to society.
While the dog bite statute generally holds dog owners strictly liable for dog bites, there are some exceptions. Once of those exceptions is the assumption of the risk doctrine, and its embodiment in the veterinarian’s rule. In brief, the veterinarian’s rule is an offshoot of the firefighters rule. Under the firefighters rule, one who has negligently started a fire has not duty to protect the firefighter from the danger the firefighter is paid to face. At base, the firefighter has been paid to confront risks inherent in the profession and is therefore owed no separate and independent legal duty by those who have created those dangers. In other words, the firefighter has assumed the risks inherent in their profession and have been paid to confront those risks. This same assumption of the risk rationale has been applied to veterinarians bit by dogs under their care. In California dog bite cases in which veterinarians have attempted to hold dog owners strictly liable under the dog bite statute, the courts have held that veterinarians have assumed the risk inherent in their profession that dogs might bite while under the stresses of veterinary care and which the dog owner has paid the veterinarian to confront. Consequently, veterinarian’s cannot hold dog owners strictly liable under California’s dog bite statute.