Many years ago there was a “one bite law” concerning dog bites. This meant if the owner had no reason to believe a dog would bite and the dog did, in fact, bite someone, the owner escaped liability. The law gave them the benefit of the doubt, but from that free bite forward, they knew and had a responsibility to ensure the dog was secured.

Currently, some states have a spin-off of that law. In those states, if the owner was not sure the dog would bite, and if they took precautions to ensure people were safe, they can sometimes escape liability or change the charges to negligence.

Proving liability

This is a tough case to prove. The victim must show that there were many reasons and warning signs that the dog might bite. The victim may cite the dog’s breed as a factor. They have to make a jury believe that it was more likely than not that the dog’s owner knew the dog might bite.

An example would be:

A dog just had pups and she has them hidden under the porch. The dog owner knows the dog has new puppies and that if a stranger tries to reach her, she will probably bite to protect her pups. If the dog owner does not warn the victim and they are bitten while trying to get the dog from the porch, it is reasonable to assume they knew it was a danger.

If the dog has sustained an injury or had a medical procedure and the owner does not warn visitors not to disturb the dog or not to touch the injured area, the owner can be liable if the dog bites. However, under the one free bite law, if they did warn the visitor and placed the dog in an area where it should have been left undisturbed and the visitor ignored this and touched the dog and was bitten, the owner is not responsible.

So the one free bite law does not automatically give every dog permission to bite someone. But it allows for certain situations where the owner is not held responsible for the first incident.

California’s Laws

California is a strict liability state. It does not recognize the one bite law at all. In California, if a person is somewhere (public or private) that they are legally allowed to be, and they do not provoke the dog, the owner is liable for the dog biting the person.

Basically, California’s stand is this. It is the responsibility of the dog owner to train the dog, restrain and control the dog, and be aware of the dog if it is near another person. The dog may have never shown aggression. However, the dog is an animal. An animal that can become frightened or feel defensive and attack. No matter how much a dog is loved, their basic nature is to protect and serve. They may not understand a group of loud kids playing baseball. If they can get to them, there is a chance they will attack them. It is up to the owner to see to it that the dog cannot get to them.

If you have been injured, speak to a dog bite attorney to discuss your rights.