The One-Bite Rule in South Bay Dog Bite Cases

Dog bite cases are often sensitive and can evoke strong emotions for many people. Though dogs certainly can cause harm, most people have no desire to see an animal killed for a biting incident. Because of this, many victims of dog bite attacks avoid pressing charges or seeking justice for their cases. Though this is an understandable sympathy toward the animal, there is no need for it. There are laws in place that prevent the unnecessary euthanasia of dogs after a biting incident. These laws and rules ensure that the animal will not be required to die unless it is truly dangerous or is known to repeatedly attack others. One such rule is called the “one-bite rule,” and it helps ensure that innocent dogs are not put down unnecessarily. In most dog bite cases, the owner is simply held responsible for damages, and the courts do not require that anything happen to the dog.

What Counts As a Dog Bite?

This question may seem basic, but many people don’t understand what counts as a dog bite. Before we can discuss the laws and rules surrounding dog bites, it’s important to understand when a dog bite has occurred. Lots of people think that a dog bite has only occurred if the skin is broken. Because of this misunderstanding, many victims fail to report their injuries and are forced to cover medical expenses alone. In reality, a dog bite has occurred any time a dog’s mouth closes around a person’s body part. Broken skin or drawn blood is not relevant when categorizing an interaction as a dog bite.

Serious Dog Bites

There are varying levels of severity within the category of dog bites. Understanding the degrees of severity can ensure that you get proper compensation for your injuries. It’s essential to remember that a dog bite of any kind is concerning, and no animal attack can be considered normal. However, these situations are especially severe, as they constitute a “serious” dog bite:

  • The dog was not prompted or was acting strangely.
  • The bite broke a tendon or bone or damaged a muscle.
  • The victim experiences nausea, chills, aches, or excessive redness or pus at the injury site.
  • The dog’s owner encouraged the dog’s dangerous behavior.

Infections or lasting symptoms can occur after a severe dog bite. You must seek medical care if you have been bitten by a dog, whether you believe that the bite was serious or not.

What Is the One-Bite Rule for Dogs?

Though dog bite laws are generally strict, they do allow leniency toward the animals themselves. The courts understand that most dogs are well behaved, and biting incidents are often a result of a fluke or an abnormal situation. This is why the one-bite rule is key when pressing charges for a dog bite. This rule states that a dog has one “free” bite, meaning that the first time a dog bites someone, they are not required to be euthanized. This rule accounts for all accidents in which a dog acted out of character, was unfairly provoked, or was otherwise acting innocently.

Owner Responsibility

The one-bite rule does not mean that there are no consequences for a dog’s first bite. This rule simply states that the dog does not need to be euthanized for a first infraction. An owner can still be held responsible if they had prior knowledge that their dog’s breed is prone to aggression or if they should have predicted a bite based on their dog’s personality and situation. For example, if an owner knows that their dog gets aggressive around men, but brings the dog to a picnic with a male friend and the dog bites the friend, the one-bite rule cannot apply. Dog owners must provide reasonable accommodation or precaution to ensure, as much as they can, that the dog will not cause harm. If they have acted cautiously and the dog uncharacteristically bites someone, the one-bite rule may apply.

Strict Liability

However, California law follows the concept of strict liability instead of the one-bite rule. This idea is much broader and generally ends in the victim’s favor. Strict liability says that pet owners are automatically liable for their pet’s actions, including biting. This idea disregards the pet’s past behavior and is only not applicable in two situations. If either of the following situations occurs, a pet owner may not be responsible for a dog bite:

  • The victim provoked the dog.
  • The victim was breaking the law or trespassing when the dog bit them.

In all other situations, the dog owner is liable for the damage caused by their pet. To defend against the charges, they would have to prove that the dog was provoked or that the victim was doing something illegal.

Trespassing During a Dog Bite

It is important to discuss how trespassing can affect a dog bite case. Even in situations of strict liability, if the victim is trespassing, the dog owner is not responsible for the damage caused. This is because dogs have the right to defend their territory, especially if that is what they are trained to do. If you enter a dog’s territory uninvited and unwelcome, it is your fault if the dog bites you. Because of this caveat, the difference between a “lawful” bite and an unlawful one can be subtle. For example, if a dog owner has a party and invites you as a friend and the owner’s dog bites you, the dog owner can be held responsible because you were invited onto the property and were not trespassing. However, if you were not invited to your friend’s party but decided to go anyway and the dog bites you, the dog owner is not at fault because you were not invited to the property. Because of the subtlety of these situations, dog bite cases often feel complex and difficult to fight.

Preventing Dog Bites

If you are concerned about being attacked or bitten by a dog, it is important to understand that these occurrences are usually not the victim’s fault. It is more difficult to prove that a dog is innocent than to prove it is guilty. Despite this, there are some ways in which you can protect yourself against dog bites and do your best to stay safe around canines:

  • Do not provoke dogs. This means avoiding doing things such as pushing or kicking dogs, feeding dogs you don’t know, barking at a dog, playing with a strange dog, or acting in a physically threatening manner toward the dog’s owner. Following this protocol helps ensure that the dog does not feel threatened or defensive..
  • Ask before you pet. Not all dogs are comfortable around strangers, and many have unique quirks that make it difficult for them to behave around certain people. Always ask a dog’s owner before you pet it or interact with it.
  • Do not trespass. Stay on public sidewalks or roads when walking. Avoid cutting through yards or entering private property without being invited. When you trespass, you throw away any possible case you could build in court..
  • Do your research. Certain dog breeds are more prone to aggression than others. This, of course, does not mean that all dogs of certain breeds are bad, but it does mean that you may need to be especially careful when encountering certain dogs. If you know you will be visiting a dog, be sure to talk to its owner about its preferences and needs so that you can ensure that you do not unknowingly provoke it.

There is no sure-fire way to avoid getting bitten, but following these tips can ensure that you stay as safe as possible.

Compensation After a Dog Bite

Because California is a strict liability state, it does not matter whether the dog that bit you has bitten someone before or not. In almost all cases, as outlined above, the owner can be held responsible. Though compensation will vary based on the specifics of your case, there are several areas for which a victim can receive compensation. These areas include:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Medical bills brought on by treatment for the dog bite
  • Any income lost while recovering from the dog bite
  • Punitive damages if the owner acted in a way that was incredibly negligent or otherwise unacceptable
  • Property damages caused during the dog bite

A victim may be able to argue one or several of these areas in a compensation case. However, it is essential to have an experienced attorney in doing so. Without an attorney, victims often receive significantly lower settlements and are not given what they deserve.

Contact McLachlan Law

For almost three decades, the expert attorneys at McLachlan Law APC have been serving the dog bite victims of California. We work diligently to ensure that you receive your fair share of compensation, all while remaining sensitive to your painful experience. With our extensive experience and resources, no one else is better equipped to represent you. Contact us today.