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What Is the 'One Bite Rule'?

Caring for an animal can involve a lot of work and be expensive, but most animal owners would agree that the benefits far outweigh the costs. Unfortunately, even the most loved and gentle animals can inflict injuries on someone or someone's pet. For this reason, most states have laws that specify how liability is determined when animals harm someone. One such theory of liability is the 'one bite rule.' Read on to learn more about the 'one bite rule' and how fault is assigned after an animal attack.

Theories of Liability in Animal Attacks

Although state laws differ, most have statutes that dictate how liability is determined when a dog or other type of animal harms someone. The most common theories of liability include the following:

  • Strict Liability: The owner is responsible for the injury if the attack occurred while the victim was in a place they were legally allowed to be, regardless of what the owner knew or did to prevent the harm. Many states use a version of this rule for dog bite liability.
  • "One Bite" Rule: The owner is liable if they knew or should have known that the animal might act in a dangerous or harmful way. The name of this theory comes from the idea that an animal gets one free bite, and after that, the owner is aware of and responsible for the animal's vicious tendencies.
  • Negligence: Even if you can't prove liability under a strict liability or "one bite" statute, you may still be able to pursue your case under a theory that the owner or caretaker's negligence caused your injuries. If the owner did not take proper action to decrease the likelihood of an attack, you could possibly recover damages under a negligence claim.

Although there are multiple theories you can use to prove liability in personal injury cases like these, an attorney could help determine which claim is most likely to succeed in a claims process.

Proving Liability Under the "One Bite" Rule

Again, state laws vary, and how one state applies the "one bite" rule may be different from how another does. Generally speaking, however, someone will be held liable for the injuries caused by their animal, if the injured party can show that:

  1. The animal has tendencies to act in a harmful or dangerous way,
  2. The owner or caretaker knew or should have known about the animal's dangerous tendencies, and
  3. The animal's dangerous tendencies caused damages to a person or property.

Although it's called the “one bite" rule, this theory of liability can apply to other types of harm, like when a dog knocks over a child. Also, it may apply to the first time an animal bites someone if the animal's dangerous tendencies were otherwise apparent. However, the injured person may be barred from recovering damages, if the owner or caretaker can show that the injured person provoked the animal or was trespassing at the time of the attack.

Ways to Show Prior Knowledge of an Animal's Viciousness

You may be wondering what it takes to show an owner or caretaker had knowledge of -- or should have known of -- an animal's harmful tendencies. Fortunately, for the injured party, there are more ways to prove this than evidence of a prior bite attack. For example, if a dog is kept as a guard dog and has been trained to attack, its dangerousness should have been apparent to the owner. The same tends to be true if a breed is known for viciousness. Similarly, if your cat frequently snaps at or attempts to bite people, you probably should know about that harmful tendency. If people have complained to you about your animal's aggressive behavior, or you've been known to warn others that your pet may harm them, these and other pieces of evidence can be used to show you knew the animal might attack someone.

Have Specific Questions About the "One Bite" Rule? Ask a Lawyer

Regardless of whether an animal attacked you or your pet attacked someone, knowing which laws and rules of liability apply to your case can be confusing. You also may not have much experience gathering evidence or assessing the strengths of your claims. Get a better handle on your case by speaking to a local personal injury attorney who's familiar with the "one bite" rule and the legal ramifications of animal attacks in general.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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