Traditionally, dog bite cases hinged on one fact: whether the dog had a penchant for, or history of, biting people. Over the past decade, this viewpoint, and the law behind it, has been changing as Americans have grown increasingly intolerant of pets that bite. The factors behind this shift are not entirely clear, but the possible causes include increased publicity of dog-bite cases nationwide and the larger numbers of Americans who own dogs, which are some reasons many states have created dog bite statutes that trump the common law ‘one bite rule.’
Common Law Rule
Whenever someone references the “one bite rule” when talking about a dog biting a person, they are essentially citing the common law rule governing dog bites if a state does not have a statute specifically addressing dog bite cases. Pursuant to the one bite rule, dog owners are only liable for injuries caused by their dog if they had reason to know that it was likely to bite someone. What this generally meant as far as courtroom evidence was concerned was that the dog’s owner was entitled to “one liability-free bite” involving their dog so long as the dog did not previously exhibit aggressive tendencies. While this rule is not absolute, it is upheld in many states, as the alternative typically involves a dog owner losing their companion; an outcome that does not present well in a courtroom.
Dog Bite Statutes
In response to the increased perception that certain dog breeds are more dangerous than others, and therefore cause more damage to society, many states have created dog bite statutes imputing more liability on dog owners for the actions of their animals, regardless of prior bite history. For example, in Illinois, if a dog bites another person, the animal control act requires that the animal be immediately confined under the observation of a licensed veterinarian for ten days. The dog is then subject to a clinical examination by a veterinarian and/or animal behaviorist who may label the dog dangerous or vicious. Under the laws of Illinois, these designations carry with them increased fines and responsibilities for the owner of the dog that include increased leash and muzzle requirements.
These dog bite statutes often also apply to police dogs who bite people outside of their roles for the police department. While it is true that police dogs are treated differently than pets as their job requirements often require that they bite perpetrators of crimes, the protections are not without their limits. One element that is not involved with pet dogs, but that often arises when a police dog bites a person, is the protections provided under federal civil rights statutes against the use of unreasonable force during arrests. If it is found that a police officer utilized a police dog when it was not necessary, it may result in a finding of liability against the municipality involved.
If you, or someone you love, has been bitten by a pet or police dog, contact the professionals at the Law Offices of Robert T. Edens, P.C. who can talk to you about your options under the law.