Dogs bite people because - for whatever reason given the context - their instincts compel them to bite. It is not the dog's fault. But their owners and caretakers are responsible for making sure that a dog with a propensity to bite does not bite an unsuspecting victim.
According to the CDC, nearly 5 million people are bitten by dogs each year. Most are insignificant. But approximately 1,000 people go to the emergency room every day from dog bite injuries. Many of these people are the dogs' owners or others who negligently handled the dog or otherwise assumed the risk of their injuries. But many dog bite victims are innocent victims, often children who would not know of the dog's vicious propensities. Incredibly, dog bites are ranked 5th on the list of reasons children end up in the emergency room and, far too often, the bites on children are on the child's face.
Under California law, a dog owner may be liable for injuries caused by the dog under two alternate theories of liability: negligence or strict liability, the latter arising from the owner's knowledge of the animal's propensity to cause harm.
There also may be a negligence claim against the dog's owners if they knew or had reason to know of the animal's vicious propensity or where the owner has acted negligently in controlling his animal (including, violation of leash laws).
Generally, homeowner's policies and some renter's insurance policies will cover strict liability and negligence in dog bite cases in California. This holds true even if the dog is not on the homeowner's property.
Many insurance defense lawyers handling dog bite cases in California are incorrectly convinced that a dog must have bitten someone before to create liability. This is a common defense. Other defenses are that the victim provoked the dog (which sometimes happens and it is a good defense if true), was a trespasser (which raises the bar on the claim) or that the victim was otherwise negligent or assumed the risk that the dog might bite. These defenses can typically be defeated with good lawyering but with insurance companies, it is almost invariably a battle to get to a reasonable settlement without a trial.