Skip to main content
Find a Lawyer
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

What Is the 'One Bite Rule'?

Caring for an animal can involve a lot of work and expenses, 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 a dog owner's liability if their dog attacks someone.

One theory of liability is the “one bite rule.” Read on to learn more about the 'one bite rule' in dog bite cases, how dog owners can be at fault, and why a dog bite lawyer is helpful in dog bite lawsuits.

Theories of Liability in Animal Attacks

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

  • Strict Liability Law: Many states use a version of this rule for dog bite liability. The dog owner is responsible for the injury if the dog bite victim was in a place they were legally allowed to be. In these states, it does not matter if the owner knew their dog was dangerous or if they could have prevented the attack. State laws or common law ("case law") define what is a dangerous dog. Usually, a dog is dangerous if it is known to bark, growl, or be aggressive to humans or animals without reason.
  • "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. One bite law says after that, the owner is aware of and responsible for controlling their animal and its vicious tendencies. The owner would have to pay for medical bills, pain, and suffering, or wrongful death costs for future dog bites on the owner's property, private property, or public property. If your town has a leash law and your dog is not restrained by a leash or a fence and bites someone, animal control may deem your dog dangerous for any dog bite injury.
  • Negligence: Even if you can't prove liability under strict liability or the "one bite" statute, you may still be able to pursue your dog bite case. The theory that the dog owner or caretaker did not take proper action to decrease the likelihood of a dog bite incident is negligence. You could recover damages if you made a claim to his insurance company or filed a dog bite lawsuit.

Although there are many theories you can use to prove liability in personal injury cases like these, you should talk to a dog bite attorney. These attorneys are personal injury attorneys who can help you determine which argument is most likely to succeed.

Proving Liability Under the "One Bite" Rule

How one state applies the "one bite" rule may differ from how another does. Generally speaking, a homeowner or dog owner is liable for the injuries their animal causes on or off their property, if the injured party can show:

  1. The domestic animal has tendencies to act in a harmful or dangerous way;
  2. The owner or caretaker, which could be a dog walker or kennel company, knew or should have known about the animal's dangerous tendencies; and
  3. The animal's dangerous tendencies caused damage to a person or property.

Although it's called the “one bite" rule, this theory of liability can apply to other types of harm. One example is if a dog knocks over a child. It may also apply to the first time an animal bites someone if the animal's dangerous tendencies were otherwise plain to see. An injured person cannot recover damages in most states if the defendant shows the victim was trespassing or provoking the animal.

Ways To Show Prior Knowledge of an Animal's Viciousness

You may wonder what it takes to show an owner or caretaker had knowledge of – or should have known of – an animal's harmful tendencies. There are more ways to prove this than evidence of a prior bite attack. For example, if a dog is a guard dog or trained to attack, then its dangerousness should have been apparent to the owner. The same tends to be true if a breed, like a pit bull, is stereotypically known for viciousness.

Vicious animal liability does not stop with dogs. Should your cat scratch or attempt to bite people, you would know she has a vicious or dangerous tendency. If people complain to you about your animal's aggressive behavior, or you warn others that your pet may harm them, then that is evidence you knew your animal was vicious. These and other pieces of evidence can show you knew the animal might attack someone.

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

Regardless of whether an animal attacks you or your pet attacks someone, knowing which laws and rules of liability apply to your case can be stressful. 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 familiar with the "one bite" rule, strict liability rule, and personal injury law in animal attacks.

Was this helpful?

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.

Or contact an attorney near you:

Next Steps

Contact a qualified personal injury attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Help Me Find a Do-It-Yourself Solution

Copied to clipboard

Find a Lawyer

More Options