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What Is the “One Bite Rule?”

Posted on November 3, 2021 in Dog Bites

A dog attack can be extremely distressing for a victim, inflicting painful injuries and psychological trauma. Bringing an injury case against the owner of the dog can provide a small sense of justice and relief to an injured victim, as well as financial compensation to help the victim pay for necessary medical care and treatments. Whether or not you can bring a claim against a pet owner after a dog bite injury depends on the liability law used in your state. A common example is the one-bite rule.

What Does a One-Bite Rule Mean?

There are two main types of laws surrounding dog bite injury cases: strict liability and the one-bite rule. A strict liability dog bite state holds the owner of a pet liable, or financially responsible, for a dog bite injury even without proof of negligence or fault. In these states, pet owners are strictly liable for the injuries and property damage caused by their pets, whether or not they had reason to foresee the incident.

A one-bite rule, on the other hand, states that the owner or controller of a dog that bites someone will only be responsible for the injury if the individual had reason to know that the animal might act in a harmful or dangerous way. This legal theory relies on the idea that an animal gets one “free” bite before its owner can be held responsible for controlling the dog’s vicious propensities. If the dog had never bitten anyone or acted violently in any way, the pet owner might not have had reason to suspect that it would bite again and would not be liable in a one-bite state.

When Does the One-Bite Rule Apply?

Despite the name, a one-bite rule does not only refer to a dog bite as a sign that the dog could be vicious. There are many different examples of actions or behaviors by a dog that could make a pet owner responsible for preventing an attack. Anything that proves the pet owner knew or should have known through reasonable diligence that a dog had a propensity for viciousness could fall under the one-bite rule, including:

  • The dog had bitten, growled at, barked at or injured someone in the past, or the dog had injured or killed a domestic animal.
  • The city’s Animal Control Center had previously classified the dog as “dangerous” or a “nuisance” due to a dog attack or another reported incident.
  • The breed of the dog marks it as dangerous according to state or local law or the rules of a leasing office/landlord.

If there was any reason the pet owner should have suspected that a dog could be vicious or bite someone, the owner is responsible for a subsequent attack in a one-bite state. Even if you cannot prove a dog bite injury case based on strict liability or a one-bite rule, however, you may be able to use the theory of negligence. Negligence says that a reasonable and prudent pet owner would have done something differently to prevent the dog bite injury, such as keeping the dog on a leash. If the pet owner failed to use a reasonable amount of care, he or she could be liable.

Does California Have a One-Bite Rule?

No, California does not have a one-bite rule. Dog bite injury cases are decided using a strict liability law, under California Civil Code Section 3342. This law states that the owner of any dog must pay for the damages suffered by someone bitten by the dog, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of dangerous behaviors. This law will only apply when the dog bite injury occurs in a public place or lawfully in a private place, not while trespassing on private property. It also will not apply if the victim provoked or harassed the dog or if the dog was performing military or police work.

For more information about your rights and legal options after a dog bite injury in California, contact a Los Angeles dog bite attorney for a free consultation.