California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI)

462. Strict Liability for Injury Caused by Domestic Animal With Dangerous Propensities—Essential Factual Elements

[Name of plaintiff] claims that [name of defendant]’s [insert type of animal] harmed [him/her] and that [name of defendant] is responsible for that harm.

People who own, keep, or control animals with unusually dangerous natures or tendencies can be held responsible for the harm that their animals cause to others, no matter how carefully they guard or restrain their animals.

To establish [his/her] claim, [name of plaintiff] must prove all of the following:

1. That [name of defendant] owned, kept, or controlled a [insert type of animal];

2. That the [insert type of animal] had an unusually dangerous nature or tendency;

3. That before [name of plaintiff] was injured, [name of defendant] knew or should have known that the [insert type of animal] had this nature or tendency;

4. That [name of plaintiff] was harmed; and

5. That the [insert type of animal]’s unusually dangerous nature or tendency was a substantial factor in causing [name of plaintiff]’s harm.

New September 2003; Revised April 2007

Directions for Use

For an instruction on statutory strict liability under the dog-bite statute, see CACI No. 463, Dog Bite Statute (Civ. Code, § 3342)—Essential Factual Elements.

Sources and Authority

  • “A common law strict liability cause of action may also be maintained if the owner of a domestic animal that bites or injures another person knew or had reason to know of the animal’s vicious propensities. If [defendant] knew or should have known of his dog’s vicious propensities and failed to inform [plaintiff] of such facts, he could be found to have exposed [plaintiff] to an unknown risk and thereby be held strictly liable at common law for her injuries. Under such circumstances, the defense of primary assumption of risk would not bar [plaintiff]’s claim since she could not be found to have assumed a risk of which she was unaware.” (Priebe v. Nelson (2006) 39 Cal.4th 1112, 1115–1116 [47 Cal.Rptr.3d 553, 140 P.3d 848], original italics, internal citations omitted.)
  • “The doctrine of strict liability for harm done by animals has developed along two separate and independent lines: (1) Strict liability for damages by trespassing livestock, and (2) strict liability apart from trespass (a) for damages by animals of a species regarded as inherently dangerous, and (b) for damages by animals of a species not so regarded but which, in the particular case, possess dangerous propensities which were or should have been known to the possessor.” (Thomas v. Stenberg (2012) 206 Cal.App.4th 654, 665 [142 Cal.Rptr.3d 24].)
  • “California has long followed the common law rule of strict liability for harm done by a domestic animal with known vicious or dangerous propensities abnormal to its class.” (Drake v. Dean (1993) 15 Cal.App.4th 915, 921 [19 Cal.Rptr.2d 325].)
  • Any propensity that is likely to cause injury under the circumstances is a dangerous or vicious propensity within the meaning of the law. (Talizin v. Oak Creek Riding Club (1959) 176 Cal.App.2d 429, 437 [1 Cal.Rptr. 514].)
  • The question of whether a domestic animal is vicious or dangerous is ordinarily a factual one for the jury. (Heath v. Fruzia (1942) 50 Cal.App.2d 598, 601 [123 P.2d 560].)
  • “ ‘The gist of the action is not the manner of keeping the vicious animal, but the keeping him at all with knowledge of the vicious propensities. In such instances the owner is an insurer against the acts of the animal, to one who is injured without fault, and the question of the owner’s negligence is not in the case.’ ” (Hillman v. Garcia-Ruby (1955) 44 Cal.2d 625, 626 [283 P.2d 1033], internal citations omitted.)
  • “The absolute duty to restrain the dog could not be invoked unless the jury found, not only that the dog had the alleged dangerous propensity, but that defendants knew or should have known that it had.” (Hillman, supra, 44 Cal.2d at p. 628.)
  • “[N]egligence may be predicated on the characteristics of the animal which, although not abnormal to its class, create a foreseeable risk of harm. As to those characteristics, the owner has a duty to anticipate the harm and to exercise ordinary care to prevent the harm.” (Drake, supra, 15 Cal.App.4th at p. 929.)

Secondary Sources

6 Witkin, Summary of California Law (10th ed. 2005) Torts, §§ 1414–1427

California Tort Guide (Cont.Ed.Bar 3d ed.) §§ 3.3–3.6

1 Levy et al., California Torts, Ch. 6, Strict Liability for Injuries Caused by Animals, §§ 6.01–6.10 (Matthew Bender)

3 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 23, Animals: Civil Liability (Matthew Bender)

1 California Civil Practice: Torts (Thomson West) §§ 2:20–2:21