Dogs are the most commonly kept pet in the United States. As a result, animal bites are a regular occurrence and most states have enacted laws to handle these situations. This article will explain the basics of dog and animal bite laws and provide a chart showing the law in each state.
Animal Bite Law
While dog bite laws vary from state to state, they primarily fall under one of two categories. These categories are:
- One Bite Free Rule
- Strict Liability Rule
- Mixed Liability (Primarily One Bite Rule)
The One Bite Rule
The "One Bite Free" Rule provides that a dog owner cannot be held responsible if a dog has bitten someone for the very first time. This rule gives grace to the dog owner for the unpredictable behavior of the animal. After the first bite it might appear that the dog may have a propensity or predisposition towards violence and biting people.
The one bite rule applies only if the dog owner was not found to be negligent in the handling of their dog. For example, the dog owner may be liable if the bite victim shows that the dog was allowed to run free without a leash in a local park or the dog was not properly contained within the family's front yard. If the owner knew the dog was likely to bite and did not take precautions to protect others, the dog owner could be found liable even if it was the first time the dog has bitten a person. In addition, if the owner commanded the dog to attack, the dog owner could also be found liable for damages to the bite victim.
In states that have enacted the One Bite Rule, the dog bite victim bears the burden of proving that the owner was aware of the animal's predisposition towards biting or that the dog owner acted negligently in controlling their animal. Negligence can be shown if the animal was roaming free, is a breed not allowed in a zoned area, was trained to fight or the owner had previously owned dogs trained to fight or the owner commanded the dog to attack.
Strict Liability Rule
The "Strict Liability Rule" is dog bite law in 34 states. Under this rule, the victim is not under obligation to prove the owner was negligent in the handling of his dog. The owner is immediately assumed to be liable when his animal shows aggression, bites, attacks or chases a person. The burden of proof falls upon the defendant dog owner to prove a defense why the dog owner should not be liable for the actions of his or her dog. Some defenses include the dog owner showing that the dog was provoked into attacking/biting by the victim or that the dog was acting under the orders of a governmental agency when it attacked, for example police dogs or military dogs who are working under color of authority.
While the Strict Liability Rule is beneficial to the victim, it is at times unfair to the dog owner. In cases where there has been a person who is bitten while trespassing, the state may still hold the owner liable. The dog owner can argue that the dog was provoked by the trespasser and that would relive him of liability or significantly reduce the damages. Still, many question the fairness of this application.
A minority of states have dog bite law that combines the "one bite free" rule and strict liability for dog bites. These states primarily rely upon the one bite free rule and contain variations, including elements of strict liability. By way of example, the New York state dog bite statute only covers medical bills.
Animal Bite State Law Chart
State One Bite Strict Liability Combination Alabama N Y N Alaska Y N N Arizona N Y N Arkansas Y N N California N Y N Colorado N Y N Connecticut N N N Delaware N Y N District of Columbia N N N Florida N Y N Georgia N N Y Hawaii N N Y Idaho Y N N Illinois N N N Indiana N N N Iowa N Y N Kansas Y N N Kentucky N Y N Louisiana N N N Maine N Y N Maryland Y N N Massachusetts N Y N Michigan N Y N Minnesota N Y N Mississippi Y N N Missouri N Y N Montana N Y N Nebraska N N N Nevada Y N N New Hampshire N Y N New Jersey N Y N New Mexico Y N N New York N N Y North Carolina Y N N North Dakota Y N N Ohio N Y N Oklahoma N Y N Oregon Y N N Pennsylvania N Y N Rhode Island N Y N South Carolina N Y N South Dakota Y N N Tennessee N N Y Texas Y N N Utah N Y N Vermont Y N N Virginia Y N N Washington N N N West Virginia N Y N Wisconsin N Y N Wyoming Y N N
- Accident & Injury Law:
- Animal Bites
Animal Bites, Pets Animal and Dog Bite Law and the "One Bite Free" Rule
By Michael Wechsler |
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