Animal Bites, Pets Animal and Dog Bite Law and the "One Bite Free" Rule

  1. 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.

    Mixed Liability


    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


    StateOne BiteStrict LiabilityCombination
    AlabamaNYN
    AlaskaYNN
    ArizonaNYN
    ArkansasYNN
    CaliforniaNYN
    ColoradoNYN
    ConnecticutNNN
    DelawareNYN
    District of ColumbiaNNN
    FloridaNYN
    GeorgiaNNY
    HawaiiNNY
    IdahoYNN
    IllinoisNNN
    IndianaNNN
    IowaNYN
    KansasYNN
    KentuckyNYN
    LouisianaNNN
    MaineNYN
    MarylandYNN
    MassachusettsNYN
    MichiganNYN
    MinnesotaNYN
    MississippiYNN
    MissouriNYN
    MontanaNYN
    NebraskaNNN
    NevadaYNN
    New HampshireNYN
    New JerseyNYN
    New MexicoYNN
    New YorkNNY
    North CarolinaYNN
    North DakotaYNN
    OhioNYN
    OklahomaNYN
    OregonYNN
    PennsylvaniaNYN
    Rhode IslandNYN
    South CarolinaNYN
    South DakotaYNN
    TennesseeNNY
    TexasYNN
    UtahNYN
    VermontYNN
    VirginiaYNN
    WashingtonNNN
    West VirginiaNYN
    WisconsinNYN
    WyomingYNN
    Accident & Injury Law:
    Animal Bites

    Michael Wechsler

    Michael Wechsler
    Michael M. Wechsler is an experienced attorney, founder of TheLaw.com, A. Research Scholar at Columbia Business School and of-counsel to Kaplan, Williams & Graffeo, LLC. He was also an SVP and chief Internet strategist at Zedge.net and legal consultant at Kroll Ontrack, a leading service e-discovery and computer forensics service provider.

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