If a dog has bitten you, then you already know how serious these injuries can be. When you are bitten by another person’s dog, in a situation where it was reasonable to expect that you would be safe, then you should consider taking legal action against the dog’s owner.

Dog bite cases are a form of personal injury lawsuit wherein you need to show to the court that you were injured due to another person’s negligence. In California, we most often approach dog bite cases from a strict liability perspective rather than a one bite perspective. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t times when the “one bite” rule might be used in a dog bite case in California.

To better understand how this all works, we will first explore what the “one bite” rule is. From there, we will turn our attention over to how California’s strict liability laws compare to a “one bite” rule. Finally, we’ll look at some examples where the “one bite” rule may apply to California cases.

What is a “One Bite” Rule for Dog Attacks?

California has been a strict liability state for dog bites since the early 1930s. As such, it is easy to think that there is no point in learning about how “one bite” rules work. However, California’s strict liability law, California Civil Code 3342, replaced the previous law. The previous law was a “one bite” law.

While California Civil Code 3342 covers most dog bite cases, it does not cover every case. In cases that Code 3342 does not cover, a “one bite” rubric may be applied to the situation to determine liability. So while “one bite” laws are less important in California than in other states, such as Oregon and Nevada, this does mean they are irrelevant. So what exactly is a “one bite” rule for dog attacks?

Different states may have different names for them, but “one bite” rules are legal rules that state that an individual is liable for injuries their dog caused if they knew that their dog had violent tendencies. Laws of this nature are called “one bite” rules because any dog that has previously bitten a person is considered to have violent tendencies. Therefore, a person most likely would not be liable for the first person their dog bit. But if their dog has previously bitten somebody, just one bite, then the chance of holding them liable for their dog’s actions is higher.

The “one bite” rule isn’t perfect, and there are situations where a dog may have the legal right to bite somebody, but it is fairly straightforward and can speed up legal proceedings.

How Does California’s Strict Liability Compare to a “One Bite” Rule for Dog Attacks?

Strict liability laws are pretty different from a “one bite” law. With a “one bite” law, the dog’s owner has to have a previous experience that alerted them to their dog’s violent nature before they can be held liable. Strict liability, on the other hand, means that a dog owner can be held liable for any bite that occurs in public or in an area where the victim has a lawful right to be.

Say you’re walking down the street, about to pass a man out walking his dog. Something spooks the dog, and it bites you as a result. In California, this incident is enough in and of itself to leave the dog owner liable for the injury. It doesn’t matter that the dog has never bitten somebody before; after all, it did bite somebody just now, and that is going to require medical attention.

Note, too, that all dog bites should be treated as serious until proven otherwise. While dog bites that provoke a lot of blood and very clear wounds obviously need medical attention, smaller bites should be treated with the same level of care. Dogs carry a lot of germs in their mouths, and any bite that breaks the skin needs to be properly cleaned and thoroughly inspected.

When May a “One Bite” Rule Be Used in California to Show Liability?

Most dog bite incidents are covered under the strict liability laws discussed above. However, there are a few exceptions to this. Some examples include:

  • When the owner is not the one being sued
  • When the victim provoked the dog into attacking
  • When the victim was a trespasser on private property
  • When the victim works in a field that comes into risk, such as a veterinarian might

Cases that fall outside of what Civil Code 3342 covers can include elements of the “one bite” rule. For example, say that a veterinarian is bitten by a dog without any prior warning about the dog’s violent tendencies. This may be the fault of the dog’s owner, or it could be the fault of somebody within the veterinarian hospital. Another example might be somebody that holds an apartment complex responsible for injuries caused by a dog that lives on the premises.

Since these examples aren’t covered by Civil Code 3342, showing that the animal previously bit somebody could be a major piece of evidence for recovering compensation following a dog bite injury.

As a whole, however, the “one bite” rule for dog bite cases has been on a decline throughout the country. California moved to a strict liability approach decades ago, but other states have continued the move away from a “one bite” approach to dog bites. However, showing that an animal has a history of violence is still a helpful tactic, even in a strict liability situation.

When Should I Reach Out to an Attorney?

If you have been bitten by a dog, then the first thing you should do is seek medical attention. After you are sure you aren’t in any further danger medically, you should reach out to an experienced attorney. They’ll be able to help you to investigate the situation, put together a compelling case, and seek the compensation you deserve as the victim of an unprovoked dog bite attack.