Everything About the "One-Bite Rule"
Updated: Sep 22
Taking care of a domestic animal can sometimes be a complicated task. Not every animal behaves in the same way, and some of them are likely to act on instinct rather than how they were raised. However, taking care of an animal isn't all about raising it; it also entails some food, health, and extra expenses. Some people don't like having pets in their home, because it may involve large quantities of money that they can't afford to have.
One of the expenses that some owners don't account for is when their pets cause harm to someone else. For example, if a person's dog bites another person or their pet, causing them a severe injury, they may have to pay for the victim's expenses. This has made many states in the U.S. dictate some laws that determine whether the dog's owner can be held accountable for its behavior. These legal terms are known as the "One-Bite Rule," "First Bite Rule," or "One-Bite Free Rule."
The one-bite rule can apply to any animal owner, so it's essential to know how fault is assigned after an animal attacks someone else. This article is going to go over the basics of the one-bite rule, how fault is assigned, and what the legal proceedings can be after an animal attack.
What is the One Bite Rule?
The one-bite rule is a legal doctrine that can determine whether a domestic animal's owner can be held legally liable for any damages that the animal may have caused. This applies to domestic animals such as a cat, dog, etc. According to this rule, the animal's owner can be held accountable for their dog's actions if:
It's proven that the dog was likely to cause any type of harm to someone else.
It's proven that the owner had previous knowledge about the dangerous behavior of their dog.
The dog's behavior caused damage to someone else.
This legal term gets its name from previous laws regarding domestic animals. Back then, a dog owner could be held liable for their pet's behavior only if they had prior knowledge about their violent tendencies. This meant that a dog could get one free bite before being held accountable for its actions.
Currently, this "one free bite" exception doesn't always apply. If the owner knew that a particular breed had violent tendencies, or if the dog was prone to causing harm to someone else, they could have strict liability for the injuries caused, even if it was the dog's first bite.
However, the fact that these are referred to as "dog bite laws" doesn't necessarily mean that the damage is limited to a dog bite. Any type of damage that a dog causes to someone else, their property, or pet, can be considered part of the one-bite rule.
The one-bite rule is part of three theories of liability on animal attacks. Some states have a different approach to determining liability for dog bites, but essentially, they work towards the same principle. Below are the other two theories of liability:
Strict Liability: In the strict liability rule, the dog owner can be held accountable for the injuries caused if the victim was attacked in a place where they were legally allowed to be. For example, if the victim was assaulted in a public park, the dog owner could be liable for injuries.
Negligence: When the one bite rule or the strict liability principles don't apply to a particular personal injury case, the victim may be able to file a claim if they believe that the dog owner's negligence caused the injury.
What Happens If the Dog Bites Someone Inside the Owner's Property?
This is a common concern when it comes to dog bite cases. There are many outcomes if a dog bites someone else inside the owner's private property. According to the "Premises Liability," a homeowner needs to have a particular standard of care to any person who enters their property. In other words, a homeowner needs to keep a safe environment for anyone who enters. This standard of care includes keeping a violent animal away from guests.
Taking this into account, these are the most common bite cases in which a dog owner may find oneself in:
Depending on the state, trespassers may or may not be able to file a claim with a law firm if they were harmed while going into the dog owner's property. Trespassing involves people who are trying to get into a private property illegally (i.e. burglary cases).
In these cases, dog owners have to provide a safe environment for their guests. If their dog has violent tendencies, they have to either restrain the dog or warn the guest about its dangerous behavior. In some states, the victim can sue the dog owner if they can prove that the owner was negligent in providing enough care to prevent the dog bite.
Previous Dangerous Behavior
If the owner has a dog that has harmed someone else in the past, that dog can be considered dangerous under the law. This means that if the dog has bitten someone before, and it bites someone again within the owner's private property, the owner can still have strict liability for the damages caused.
Regardless of the case, the best way to avoid these personal injury scenarios is to let people know about the dog's behavior beforehand, or put up a warning sign on the property indicating that a dangerous dog is there.
How Do the Strict Liability Dog Bite Laws Work?
The one-bite rule and the strict liability law principles are the two most common cases when it comes to dog bites. The main difference between the two is that in the one-bite rule, the owner may be liable for the damages if the victim can prove that the owner didn't have previous knowledge of the dog's violent tendencies, or if the dog's particular breed is naturally violent. On the other hand, strict liability means that the owner is liable for injuries caused regardless of what they could do to prevent them.
The two main circumstances in which the owner can be held liable by law for their dog's actions are the following:
The victim was legally allowed to be where the attack happened.
The victim didn't do anything to provoke the animal.
If any of those two principles apply to the case, the owner is going to have strict liability for the dog bite, meaning that it doesn't matter if the owner knew about their dog's behavior beforehand or if they did anything to prevent the attack. However, these strict liability bite cases are non-applicable in every state, and each state has a different approach to it.
Generally, strict liability bite cases are considered "easier to win" since it's easier for the law firm to prepare a personal injury case, and prove the owner's guilt.
What Happens to the Dog After It Bites Someone?
As with all the cases above, the consequences of a dog bite may vary depending on the state. However, as a general rule, a dog bite is usually treated as a civil problem, which means that there are not fatal consequences on most bite cases. For example, if a person suffers from a dog bite, that dog needs to be quarantined for a minimum of 10 days. This is because, in most cases, dog bites come from an uncontrolled rabies issue.
When the dog is quarantined, experts have to evaluate if the animal shows any rabies' signs or symptoms. If the owner can prove that the dog is licensed and vaccinated, it can help to get it out of quarantine faster. However, if the animal caused severe damage to the victim, animal service officers may classify it as "potentially vicious." If the dog didn't have previous violent incidents and shows good behavior over the days, it can have that label removed after some months.
In severe cases, the dog can be labeled "vicious," which means that the court could rule for it to be put down or keep it in strict quarantine conditions while paying for liability insurance. A dog could also be put down or placed in strict quarantine if it wasn't vaccinated before the incident.
While putting the dog down because of a personal injury case, it's a rare occurrence. Most bite cases end up in the dog being held in strict quarantine for some time until the victim is free of injuries or infections.
Preventing a dog bite can be complicated since it's hard to tell if the animal is going to go violent unexpectedly. However, there are some measures that the owner can take to avoid personal injury cases as much as possible. These measures can be read below:
Keep the Animal Vaccinated: As stated before, some personal injury cases related to dog bites may be because of rabies. It's essential to keep the dog up-to-date on all its vaccines.
Supervise the Animal: If the person is taking the dog for a walk, the best thing to do is keep them on a leash to prevent them from running to attack other people. The states of Michigan and Pennsylvania have a law that requires every dog owner to walk their animal with a leash or some form of restraint. This law is commonly referred to as "leash law." Other states may require dogs to have a leash on specific locations, or at particular times. Regardless of the case, the best thing to do is always to keep the dog controlled, even more, if it's a big or dangerous animal.
Supervise Children: While teenagers and adults may know when to stay away from a dangerous dog, children may not. In these cases, it's vital for the owner to pay attention to any children nearby to prevent the dog from potentially attacking them.
Study the Animal's Signs of Aggression: If a dog shows any signs of aggression, such as barks, snarls, or growls to someone else, the owner must find a trainer that can help them to assess the situation in the best way possible.
Study the State Law Regarding Dog Bites: Each state has a different law regarding dog bites and strict liability situations. The owner must know their particular state's law in order to know what to do if their animal harms someone else.
Behave Responsibly: A dog bite is uncomfortable for all the parties involved, so if a dog bite occurs, it's vital for the owner to keep calm and provide as much help as possible to the victim, even if they're held liable. This way, the victim may go easier on their personal injury case, or even avoid filing a lawsuit altogether.
Is California a "One Bite Rule" State?
Each state may handle a dog bite and a personal injury case differently. While a particular state law may be slightly similar to other states' law, it's important to know the specifics in case a dog bite incident occurs. Knowing the difference can help to determine if the owner is liable for the damage in a faster way.
Overall, there are more states that work with the "Strict Liability" law than with the "One Bite Rule" law. The state of California is not a "One Bite Rule State" since it only works with the "Strict Liability" statute, meaning that if a dog bite incident happens, and the victim didn't provoke the animal or legally was in the place of the incident, the owner is automatically liable for all the damages caused.
When applicable, California's state law uses the Cal. Civ. Code § 3342, which states the following:
"(a) The owner of any dog is liable for the damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner's knowledge of such viciousness."
However, there may be an exception to California's strict liability law in some cases. The one-bite rule can become a deciding factor of negligence in some special cases. For example, the one-bite rule can help the victim show that the keeper didn't properly restrain the dog, which can give more strength to the victim's personal injury case.
According to Californian law, there are also other exceptions in which the one bite rule can help decide whether the owners can be held liable for their dog's actions. These exceptions can be read below:
The victim was trespassing private property.
The dog's owners or keepers are not the ones being held liable.
The animal was a law enforcement animal on duty.
The victim had knowledge of the dog's violent behavior and/or assumed the risk of being bitten. (i.e. reading a warning sign beforehand, being a veterinarian, etc.)
The victim was partially liable for their injury.
If any of these scenarios happen, the victim can't hold the keeper strictly liable for the dog bite. Instead, they would have to prove negligence on the keeper's part.
According to Californian law, if a dog has a history of biting people, or if it's proven that the dog was raised to attack people, it can be legally processed due to being considered a threat to public safety. In extreme personal injury cases, the dog can be taken away from their keeper and/or put down.
Which States Apply the One Bite Rule?
There are currently 16 states in the U.S. that follow the one-bite rule. The remaining states tend to follow the strict liability statute, but they also use the one bite rule whenever the strict liability statute doesn't apply.
The states that follow the one-bite rule can be found below:
How to File a Dog Bite Lawsuit
Whether the victim lives in a "One Bite Rule" or a "Strict Liability" state, they can choose to file a lawsuit if they want to. It's important to determine two important factors before proceeding with the lawsuit: Damages and evidence.
Calculating the damages refers to making a list of all the expenses that may arise from the injury. Regardless if it was one or several bites, it's important to write everything down. The expenses include:
Unexpected Medical Bills
Temporary or Permanent Disability Bills
Pain and Suffering
On the other hand, gathering evidence is the second most important part of filing a successful claim. The evidence can be:
Pictures or videos of the injuries and scene
Witness or Police Reports
The next step would be to hire a dog bite lawyer. Having someone with experience handling the case is the safest thing to do to ensure getting proper compensation for the damages caused.
The one-bite rule can undoubtedly help to determine if a person can be held accountable for their dog's actions. However, it's important to note that not every state follows the one bite rule as the primary legal resource, but in those cases, it can still be used to prove negligence, which helps the victim's lawsuit.
What happens after a dog bite is reported? Read the previous blog to find out.
Disclaimer: The details included in this blog is offered for educational purposes only, and should not be taken as lawful guidance in any way. No recipients of material from this blog, clients or otherwise, should or should not act on the basis of any material consisted in the blog without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional guidance on the particular facts and situations at issue from an attorney accredited in the recipient's state.