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What Is the 'One Bite Rule'?

Caring for an animal can involve a lot of work and expense, but most animal owners would agree that the benefits far outweigh the costs. Unfortunately, even the most loved, gentle animal can inflict injuries on someone or someone’s pet. For this reason, most states have laws that specify how liability is determined when an animal harms 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 in their wording, 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 he or she 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 propensities.
  • 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.

Although there are multiple theories you can use to prove liability in personal injury cases like these, a dog bite attorney will know which one is the most advisable based on the laws of your state and the facts of your case.

Proving Liability Under the ‘One Bite Rule’

Again, state laws vary in how they word and apply the one bite rule. But in general, someone will be held legally liable for the injuries caused by their animal if the injured party can show that:

  • The animal had a propensity to act in a harmful or dangerous way;
  • The owner or caretaker knew or should have known about the animal’s dangerous propensity;
  • The animal’s dangerous propensity 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, and may apply to the first time an animal bites someone if its dangerous propensities 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 or should have had knowledge 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, or is of a breed known for viciousness, its danger should be apparent to the owner. Similarly, if your cat frequently snaps at or attempts to bite people, you probably 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 evidence can be used to show you knew the animal might attack someone.

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

Whether you were hurt by a neighbor's animal 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 strength 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

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