You Hit A Dog With Your Car: What The Law Says In California

Posted on: 20 May 2016

Experts estimate that around 1.2 million dogs die on American roads every year, and many more are badly injured. For drivers, a dog can present a hazard that's almost impossible to see until it's too late, so it's often not the driver's fault when something goes wrong. State laws about these accidents vary, and certain rules apply in California. Find out what the law says you should do if you hit a dog in California, and find out how and when you may become liable for its injuries.

What the law says you should do after a collision

It's always important to remember that dogs are not just living creatures. When you hit one of these animals, you are damaging somebody else's property. If you bear that simple premise in mind, you can often avoid problems later on.

When you hit somebody's dog, California Vehicle Code Section 20002, "Permissible Action: Duty Where Property Damaged" applies. If your car results in damage to any property (including a dog), you must legally stop as soon as it is safe to do so. You must then also take reasonable steps to find the property owner and present your driver's license, vehicle registration and home address. Of course, this is easy to do if the owner is with the animal, but in the case of an unaccompanied dog, you may not know how you can do this.

Technically, if you can't find the owner, you should leave a note somewhere near where the accident occurred with these details. However, as long as you contact the local police department to report the accident, a court will normally rule that you took all reasonable steps. If you're not sure which department to call, you can always call the California Highway Patrol. If you fail to take these steps, a court could find you guilty of a misdemeanor, which could land you with a jail sentence, a fine, or both.

Negligence laws

If you hit and injure or kill somebody else's dog, the owner may decide to file a lawsuit against you. If this happens, the owner will want to prove that your negligence caused the accident and injuries.

You'll need an experienced car accident attorney to help you counter this claim. Court rulings in these cases vary considerably, and a judge will carefully consider each case on its merits. A judge may decide you were negligent if you exceeded the speed limit, especially in a built-up neighborhood, or you broke a traffic law, such as driving through a stop sign.

Accordingly, your attorney will want to prove that the dog's owner was negligent. If you hit an unleashed dog, you may have a strong case. Unleashed dogs are a serious hazard for drivers, and many accidents occur because the animals run in front of cars. As such, if the dog's owner breaks a dog leash law, a court may rule that he or she caused the accident.

Dog leash laws vary across the state, and the rules differ in some counties. For example, owners in Long Beach must not use a leash longer than eight feet, while counties like Livermore allow unleashed dogs where the animal is under the owner's voice control. As such, according to where the accident occurs, you may have a stronger case if the owner breaks one of these rules.

How comparative negligence can affect you

In California, negligence laws allow one party to sue the other for a percentage of damages according to comparative negligence. If you hit a dog with your car, the dog's owner may claim that you were partly responsible for the accident because you breached your duty of care. For example, although the owner may not have leashed the dog, he or she may still claim comparative negligence if he or she has evidence that you were speeding or driving illegally in some way.

This is another reason that it's a good idea to call the police after you hit an animal. Without an accident report or any report from the police, the dog's owner may allege things that you find it hard to disprove later.

If your car hits and injures a dog in California, you must follow the law. Talk to an experienced car accident attorney (like those at Welsh & Welsh PC LLO) for more information or advice.