Dog Attacks : One-Bite Vs. Strict Liability Cases

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The laws associated with dog bites differ by state, however there are two generally accepted principles that the country adheres to – liability on the dog owners part when they knew or should have known the dog would bite a person, and liability on the dog owners part irrespective of whether they knew the dog would bite or not.

One ‘Free’ Bite?

Before the 20th Century, dog owners were only liable for their dog biting someone if it could be shown they knew the dog may have been inclined to do so. This is known as the ‘one-bite’ rule, due to dog being allowed one bite before their owners were liable for their actions.

This has changed slightly in more recent times, as a dog is now not necessarily allowed to have one ‘free’ bite. If, for example, a breed is known for being dangerous or aggressive or it may be prone to biting due to recent events, the dog’s owner may well be liable regardless of whether it is the dogs first bite or not. It has to be shown that the owner knew or should have known the dog would act in an aggressive manner. This can be complicated to prove.

If a plaintiff has to prove the owner knew (or should have known) their dog would bite, they will need to find evidence to this effect. This might include vet records and statements from witnesses which can be used to convince the jury that it is likely the owner was aware of their dog’s temperament. The owner will of course be attempting to do the opposite. This evidence may include the dog’s breed, information about the training the dog received, other people’s experience with the dog etc.

Strict Liability

A great many number of state now have strict liability laws in place when it comes to dog bites. In these cases it is irrelevant whether the owner knew or should have known the dog would bite, and they are liable anyway. In strict liability, the defendant is liable if:

  1. The plaintiff was legally allowed to be in the area where the dog bite happened
  2. The plaintiff did not provoke the dog in any way.

These statutes vary from state to state, and may include other aspects (such as If the plaintiff was warned or if the bite was not on public property).

If you want to know more about dog bite liability in your state, contact the team at Franco Firm for more advice.


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