pit bull chargingDescription of the rule

The one bite rule says that an owner, harborer or keeper of any domestic animal (a dog, cat or any other domestic animal) shall be held legally liable for damages caused by the animal if it is shown that (a) the animal had a propensity to do something harmful which was unusual for the animal's class (such as biting people, scratching them or knocking them down), (b) the owner, harborer or keeper of the animal was aware of this propensity or dangerous propensity prior to the incident in question, and (c) the animal's propensity to act harmfully caused damages to a person or property in the incident in question. 

The Restatement (Second) of Torts, section 509, sets forth the one bite rule as follows: 

§ 509. Harm Done by Abnormally Dangerous Domestic Animals. 

Except as stated in § 517, a possessor of a domestic animal which he has reason to know has dangerous propensities abnormal to its class, is subject to liability for harm caused thereby to others, except trespassers on his land, although he has exercised the utmost care to prevent it from doing the harm. 

The Restatement, quoted above, uses the phrase "has reason to know." The significance of it is explained in Restatement (Second) of Torts § 12 (1965): 

§ 12. Reason to Know; Should Know 

(1) The words "reason to know" are used throughout the Restatement of this Subject to denote the fact that the actor has information from which a person of reasonable intelligence or of the superior intelligence of the actor would infer that the fact in question exists, or that such person would govern his conduct upon the assumption that such fact exists. 

(2) The words "should know" are used throughout the Restatement of this Subject to denote the fact that a person of reasonable prudence and intelligence or of the superior intelligence of the actor would ascertain the fact in question in the performance of his duty to another, or would govern his conduct upon the assumption that such fact exists. 

How the rule relates to dog bite law in general

The one bite rule is one of several methods of establishing the liability of a defendant in a dog bite case. Other methods include negligence and negligence per se, as set forth in Legal Rights of Dog Bite Victims in the USA. In certain situations, victims have even based their claims on less ordinary causes of action such as nuisance, battery, assault and intentional torts. 

The one bite rule is relevant the first time that a canine attacks a human being. In such a case, the paramount legal issue is the extent to which the state having jurisdiction adheres to the English common law pertaining to injuries inflicted by domestic animals. The common law shielded the owner of a domestic animal from civil liability to the first victim of each of his animals. This absolving principle came to be known variously as the "one bite rule," the "first bite rule," or the "first bite free" rule.

The one-bite rule underlies civil and criminal actions in modern America, and is applicable in every state and the District of Columbia. A minority of American states (listed in Legal Rights of Dog Bite Victims in the USA) use the one-bite rule to determine legal liability. The majority of states and the District of Columbia have passed "dog bite statutes" that modify the one-bite rule in specific circumstances. (The list of those states also is in Legal Rights of Dog Bite Victims in the USA.) Criminal laws which apply to the owners, keepers and harborers of dogs are generally based upon the one-bite principle, in that criminal liability usually does not result from dog attacks unless the dog previously engaged in similar behavior.

It should be noted that the one-bite rule applies to cases involving any domestic animal, and any type of injury (such as a knock-down or trip-and-fall). For example, an owner's liability for injuries by his cat would be determined by the one-bite rule. In the absence of a strict liability statute or ordinance in the jurisdiction where the incident happened, the factual issue would be whether the cat was known to its owner, harborer or keeper to inflict injuries on people or property a certain way. If so, and if the cat were to do it again in that way, then that person would be liable under the one-bite rule.

Rationalle for the rule

The rationale of the one bite rule was that domestic animals by definition were not injurious, and therefore liability could be predicated only on the defendant's knowledge that a particular animal had a propensity to behave in manner that was injurious to humans. Again, the rule applied to any type of injury, whether or not a bite.

The rule provided not only a shield for the animal's owner but also a sword for its victim, because it justified compensating any victim -- after the first one -- who was injured by the same dangerous propensity provided that the owner, keeper or harborer of the dog knew or should have known about it. The cause of action was founded on the defendant's scienter (i.e., knowledge) of his dog's dangerousness. For that reason, this cause of action has been referred to as the "scienter cause of action," or as "common law strict liability." Because the gist of the tort "is the keeping of a thing known to be dangerous, one who keeps or harbors an animal owned by another may be liable, if he has such knowledge." Prosser or Torts, chapter 10, section 57, page 441.

The Restatement (Third) of Torts, section 23, comment (b), sets forth the rationale of holding dog owners strictly liable for keeping vicious dogs:

Ownership of animals such as dogs and cats is widespread throughout the public; therefore, the limited risks entailed by ordinary dogs and cats are to a considerable extent reciprocal. Accordingly, the case on behalf of strict liability for physical harms that all such ordinary animals might cause is weak. However, even though animals in such categories generally entail only a modest level of danger, particular animals may present significant and abnormal dangers.... Even if ... retention [of such an animal] is itself proper, an abnormally dangerous animal is by definition unusual; owning such an animal is an activity engaged in by a few that imposes significant risks on others within the community. In these circumstances, strict liability is fairly imposed. 

An actual bite is not required

It has been repeatedly stated in the court decisions that the name "one-bite rule" is a misnomer, and that the rule applies to any injury whether or not it was caused by a bite, and that in a dog bite case the proof of the dangerous propensity does not require showing a prior bite to a person but simply conduct that should have put the owner, keeper or harborer on notice that the dog wanted to bite a person. 

“[T]here can be circumstances, short of an actual bite, which suffice to give the dog owner reason to know of the dog’s dangerous tendency; for example, the dog, without provocation, may lurch at a person evidently attempting to bite, but fails in this endeavor when the person successfully withdraws” (Restatement (Third) of Torts: Phys. & Emot. Harm, section 23, comment (c), “Scienter.”). 

“A dog is not necessarily regarded as entitled to one bite. It is enough that the possessor of the animal knows that it has on other occasions exhibited such a tendency to attack human beings . . . as should apprise him of its dangerous character. Thus, the fact that a dog has to his knowledge unsuccessfully attempted to attack human beings . . . is sufficient to [show scienter].” (Restatement (Second) of Torts, section 509, comment (g).)

When it comes to dogs, therefore, the test in a dog bite case is whether the dog previously showed a desire to bite a person (i.e., a vicious temperament). (See, i.e., Steagald et al. v. Eason et al. (2017) __ GA __ : "An attempt to bite in
the absence of provocation most certainly may be proof of a propensity to bite without provocation.") In a "knock-down" case, the test would be whether the dog played too hard (dangerous behavior).

Importance of the rule in states having a dog bite statute

The one bite rule is important even in states that have a dog bite statute, because the wording of the statute might not apply to any particular dog bite incident.

The dog bite statutes are worded differently throughout the country. They might or might not apply to keepers and harborers as well as owners, and to injuries by means other than biting. They might provide for full compensation, or payment of just medical bills, or payment of medical bills and other economic losses (like loss of income), or double compensation under some circumstances. Some do not apply during the day, or if the dog owner posted a "bad dog sign," or if the victim had provoked the dog weeks before. Even though they are worded as strict liability laws, moreover, the court decisions permit a variety of defenses that vary from state to state.

For that reason, it is important to keep in mind that even if the dog bite statute does not apply to a particular defendant, or does not provide sufficient compensation, the victim can still assert the scienter cause of action, because it is always available in every state, and in almost every state can also assert causes of action such as negligence and negligence per se.

The scienter cause of action can be directed against not only the dog's owner, but also its harborer or keeper:

A person, although not the owner of a vicious dog, may make himself liable to others by knowingly keeping or harboring the dog upon his premises, after knowledge of his vicious propensities, and this is true even when such keeping is without the consent and against the wishes of the animal's owner. ... The owner of an animal is the person to whom it belongs. Whether or not a person is a keeper depends upon the peculiar facts and circumstances of each individual case. A man may own an animal and yet not be its keeper. The word 'keeper' is equivalent to 'the person who harbors.' Harboring means protecting. So one who treats a dog as living at his house, and undertakes to control his actions is the owner or keeper within the meaning of the law; but the casual presence of an animal on his premises, if not so treated, does not constitute him such owner or keeper. (3 C.J.S. 1266, § 165.)

Limitations on defenses

Contributory negligence and comparative negligence are not defenses against the scienter cause of action. This is expressed in Restatement of Torts, section 515, subsection (1): "A plaintiff is not barred from recovery by his failure to exercise reasonable care to observe the propinquity of a wild animal or an abnormally dangerous domestic animal or to avoid harm to his person, land or chattels threatened by it." Comments (a) and (b) to section 515 provide the reasoning for this rule:

The possessor or harborer of the animal takes the risk of answering for any harm done by it while out of his control not only to the careful and competent but also to those whose care and competence is below the standard to be expected of the reasonable man. Therefore, a person harmed by such an animal which with or without fault of the owner gets out of his control is not barred from recovery because had he exercised ordinary vigilance, skill and competence he could have escaped injury.

Since the strict liability of the possessor of an animal is not founded on his negligence, the ordinary contributory negligence of the plaintiff is not a defense to such an action. The reason is the policy of the law which places the full responsibility for preventing the harm upon the defendant. Thus where the plaintiff merely fails to exercise reasonable care to discover the presence of the animal, or to take precautions against the harm which may result from it, his recovery on the basis of strict liability is not barred.

Trespass is not a defense against the scienter cause of action in all states. Trespass was not a defense at the common law. (Dog Owners' Liability: Statutory Effects, Duke Law Journal, Vol. 1960, No. 1 (Winter, 1960), pp. 146-149.) The case of Radoff v. Hunter (1958) 158 Cal.App.2d 770, for example, held that keeping a guard dog on one's premises, without making the dog's presence obvious or warning of its presence, shall result in liability toward all persons that the dog injures, whether such person are considered invitees, licensees or trespassers. In the Radoff case, the plaintiff was a trespasser who was bitten by the defendants' watch dog, which was kept on a chain in a parking lot behind the defendants' store. The dog often could not be seen and no sign warned of its presence. Ruling that trespass was not a defense to the scienter cause of action, the court stated that "the keeping of the trained watchdog, under conditions where at times he was concealed from view and where no warning was given of his presence, was similar to maintaining a trap whereby invitees, licensees or trespassers might be injured." 

"Rules imposing liability for harm caused by domestic animals find their origin in authority no less ancient than the Pentateuch." Wilson v. Simmons, 103 S.W.3d 211 (Mo.App. W.D. 2003). The Bible contains the following at Exodus 21:28-29:

If an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die: then the ox shall be surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be quit.
But if the ox were wont to push with his horn in time past, and it hath been testified to his owner, and he hath not kept him in, but that he hath killed a man or a woman; the ox shall be stoned, and his owner also shall be put to death.

 

The one free bite rule was the law of England on July 4, 1776. Therefore it became the law of the US states at that time. Because it was part of the "common law" (meaning the judge-made law of England), it was not put into the state codes. The various pronouncements of the law had to be located in the law books of England going back to the 1600s. Here in the USA, the rule was affirmed in the 19th century on the basis of logic like the following: "The practice has so long and so universally prevailed of permitting dogs to run at large in our streets and highways, without holding the owner liable for any injury, which he had no reason to believe they would commit, that it would justly create great surprise to maintain such a cause of action now. In my opinion the action will not lie without proof of the scienter." (State ex rel. Smith v. Donohue, 49 N.J.L. 548; 10 A. 150; 1887 N.J. Super. LEXIS 48 (1887).)

The best expression of the rule is found in Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 509:

  • "(1)  A possessor of a domestic animal that he knows or has reason to know has dangerous propensities abnormal to its class, is subject to liability for harm done by the animal to another, although he has exercised the utmost care to prevent it from doing the harm.
  • "(2)  This liability is limited to harm that results from the abnormally dangerous propensity of which the possessor knows or has reason to know."

As stated in the prior section, most American states have either eliminated or modified the one bite rule. The list of "one bite states" is in Legal Rights of Dog Bite Victims in the USA. That web page also has a list of the states that have adopted state law strict liability. The United Kingdom, by the way, still relies upon the "one bite" rule (see the Animals Act 1971, section 2, subsection 2).

If you are in a state that has the one bite rule, you need to research it first by reading Legal Rights of Dog Bite Victims in the USA, and then (if that section of Dog Bite Law is insufficient or silent about your state) in the case books of your state. Because legal research requires training, non-lawyers who have a claim or must defend a claim are strongly advised to see an attorney rather than attempt to research this issue.

"The keeper of an animal of a species dangerous by nature, or of any animal which he knows, or has reason to know, to have dangerous propensities, is liable, without wrongful intent or negligence, for damage to others resulting from such a propensity." (Prosser, Torts, p. 432; 3 C.J.S., "Animals," 148; cf. Civ. Code, 3341, 3342.)

The dangerous propensity that is required in a dog bite case is the tendency of the dog to bite a person without provocation. It does not matter whether the intention of the dog is to guide or herd, as in a collie, or to kill, as in a fighting dog. The intention of the dog is legally immaterial. What matters is that the dog has the tendency to bite, because dog bites are intolerable. Furthermore, it is not necessary to prove that the dog previously bit a person, because the gist of the tort is keeping a dog that indicated it wanted to bite humans. (See the citations at "A Bite Is Not Required," on Overview of the One Bite Rule.)

The common law developed the concept of dangerous propensity to determine legal liability in all cases where a domestic animal caused injury. The traditional formulation, set forth in Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 509, refers simply to "a domestic animal" and not specifically a dog. To analyze a dog bite case, therefore, one must focus on the actions of the dog that are legally sufficient to enable the jury to conclude that the dog owner either knew or reasonably should have known that his dog would someday bite a person.

It has generally been held that the prior behavior of the dog in a bite case must consist of proof of a vicious temperament. Such proof can consist of one or more actions of the dog, such as a bite, a snap, growling, lunging, or chasing people or animals. If the proof is limited to an act that was not a bite or attempt to bite, however, the parties must determine whether the courts having jurisdiction of the case did not previously rule that such behavior was insufficient proof as a matter of law. For example, it is often held that merely chasing animals does not establish proof of a dangerous propensity to attack humans. 

"(T)he owner or keeper of a domestic animal is bound to take notice of the general propensities of the class to which it belongs, and also of any particular propensities peculiar to the animal itself of which he has knowledge or is put on notice; and insofar as such propensities are of a nature likely to cause injury he must exercise reasonable care to guard against them and to prevent injuries which are reasonably to be anticipated from them. In this respect, a vicious or dangerous disposition or propensity may consist of mere mischievousness or playfulness of the animal, which, because of its size or nature, might lead to injury, for it is the act of the animal, rather than its state of mind, which charges the owner or keeper with liability." 4 Am.Jur.2d Animals s 86, p. 332 (1962). Accord, 3A C.J.S. Animals s 177, pp. 668-669 (1973); see Mungo v. Bennett, 238 S.C. 79, 119 S.E.2d 522 (1961); Groner v. Hedrick, 403 Pa. 148, 169 A.2d 302 (1961); Pennyan v. Alexander, 229 Miss. 704, 91 So.2d 728 (1957); Loftin v. McCrainie, 47 So.2d 298 (Fla.1950).

Here are some of the characteristics of a dog that were held to support a finding of dangerous propensity:

  • The dog bites people without provocation. Buffington v. Nicholson (1947) 78 Cal.App.2d 37, 43.
  • The dog previously bit a person who had provoked it. Reynolds v. Reichwein (1973) 510 P.2d 895, 1973 Colo. App. Lexis 857.
  • The dog follows the victim for 50 feet, barking at the victim, prior to the attack. Gomes v. Byrne (1959) 51 Cal.2d 418.
  • The dog growls, barks and lunges at people. Bulow v. Dawn Patrol (1963) 216 Cal.App.2d 721, 728-729.
  • The dog was trained to fight other dogs
  • The dog is an Akita. Wright ex rel. Wright v. Calvin Reid Const. Co,. Inc., 723 So.2d 55 (Ala. Civ. App. 1997).
  • The dog runs loose on common areas, barks at a stick and lunges at a stick in a vicious manner. Gibbs v. Grenadier Realty Corp. (1991, 1st Dept) 569 NYS2d 76, 173 AD2d 171.
  • The dog is a pit bull and it barks and lunges at children. Giaculli v. Bright (1991 Fla. App. D5) 584 So.2d 187, 16 FLW D 2164.
  • The dog is a guard dog. Bulow v. Dawn Patrol (1963) 216 Cal.App.2d 721, 728-729.
  • See also the cases holding that the defendant had notice of the dog's dangerous propensity, in the section pertaining to notice under this topic.

The following facts were deemed insufficient to prove the dangerous propensity to bite a person:

  • Chasing cars and motorcycles. Chandler v. Vaccaro (1959) 167 Cal.App.2d 786.
  • Chasing people but not biting them. Starling v. Davis (1970) 121 Ga.App. 428.
  • The dog is a Rottweiler, but exhibits no other dangerous behavior. Moura v. Randall (1998) 119 Md.App. 632, 705 A.2d 334.
  • The dog is 100 pounds, is a German shepherd, and its name is "Thunder." Lundy v. California Realty (1985) 170 Cal.App.3d 813
  • The dog might attack a person who threatened the dog with a stick. Buffington v. Nicholson (1947) 78 Cal.App.2d 37.
  • The dog is a female who was nursing pups when it bit a person who came near the pups. Chandler v. Vaccaro (1959) 167 Cal.App.2d 786, 790.
  • The dog is a puppy that suddenly woke up and nipped a person's hand, causing a minor break in the skin. Tessiero v. Conrad (1992, 3rd Dept) 588 NYS2d 200, 186 AD2d 330.
  • The dog engages in so-called "muzzle greeting." Provorse v. Curtis 732 NYS2d 310 (App. Div. 4th Dept 2001).
  • The dog is kept tied to a post. Dunnings v. Castro (1994, Tex. App. Houston (1st Dist)) 881 SW2d 559.

The essence of common law strict liability is the dog owner's knowledge that the dog had a dangerous propensity. The victim can prove that the dog had a dangerous propensity in a variety of ways, some of which are listed above. However, proof of merely the propensity is not sufficient to hold the dog owner liable; the victim also has to prove that the dog owner knew or should have known that the dog had done the things that established the propensity.

The action of the dog that injured the victim in the current case must be essentially the same as the action that the dog owner previously knew or should have known of. In other words, one who knows that his large dog likes to jump on people will be charged with knowledge of a dangerous propensity (i.e., the tendency to jump upon and possibly knock a person down), but knowledge of this particular dangerous propensity will not help establish the claim of a person who was bitten by the dog. To put it yet another way, the victim must prove that the dog owner had prior knowledge of the dog's tendency to do essentially the same thing that later caused injury to the victim. As noted legal scholar William Prosser said, the prior act "must extend to the trait or propensity which caused the damage." W. Prosser, Handbook of the Law of Torts, § 76 (4th ed. 1971).

Courts have held that the testimony of an expert witness can be helpful with regard to the scienter requirement. For example, in the Diane Whipple case, expert testimony was admitted to prove that the escalating series of acts by the dogs were a clear tip-off that they were headed toward committing serious violence against a person. However, courts also have held that expert testimony alone cannot establish the subjective knowledge of the dog owner. For example, in Kathren v. Olenik, 46 Or.App. 713, 718, 613 P.2d 69 (Or.App. 1980) the court stated:

Plaintiff argues the opinion of the expert that Mordecai was vicious and would have been vicious for several months is sufficient to allow the jury to find that defendants should have known of the dog's temperament. That opinion may have been evidence that the dog was in fact vicious, but it is not evidence that the defendants actually knew of the propensity or were aware of any manifestations of viciousness that would put them on notice. The burden was on plaintiff to prove the dog was vicious and that defendants knew of the dog's propensity.

An interesting issue arises where the dog owner admits that his dog previously bit a person, but claims that the prior victim provoked the dog. This issue was addressed in Reynolds v. Reichwein (1973) 510 P.2d 895, 1973 Colo. App. Lexis 857, in which the Court of Appeals of Colorado held that the appellate courts will not overturn the trier of fact's determination that that owner knew his dog was vicious, as long as the determination finds some support in the record. In Reynolds, the dog previously bit a child that provoked it. Despite the provocation, the trial court ruled that the dog was vicious and the owner knew or had notice of the dog's vicious tendencies. 

The following facts were held to support a finding of knowledge of the dangerousness of a dog:

  • The dog is kept as a guard dog. Portillo v. Aiassa (1994) 27 Cal.App.4th 1128, 1135; Bulow v. Dawn Patrol (1963) 216 Cal.App.2d 721, 728-729.
  • The dog is kept tied up: this has been proven to be a cause of viciousness.
  • The dog is muzzled around people.
  • People are kept away from the dog. Northon v. Schultz (1955) 130 Cal.App.2d 488.
  • There is a "Beware of Dog" sign. Portillo v. Aiassa (1994) 27 Cal.App.4th 1128, 1135.
  • The owner warns people that the dog may bite. Bulow v. Dawn Patrol (1963) 216 Cal.App.2d 721, 729.
  • The owner brags that the dog attacks people.
  • There is a newspaper article posted on the premises, describing the dog essentially as an attack dog. Portillo v. Aiassa (1994) 27 Cal.App.4th 1128, 1132.
  • The dog is a Husky that runs and attacks the front fence, growls, barks, shows it teeth, tries to bite through the fence, tries to jump the fence. Dixon v. Frazini (1992, 4th Dept.) 592 NYS2d 208, 188 AD2d 1054. It was held that the jury could find that the landlord had notice because she was the sister of a tenant and visited the tenants to collect rent and for family visits.
  • The owner's or keeper's knowledge of a dog's vicious or dangerous propensities may be inferred by the following evidence: (1) the general reputation of the dog, (2) the size and breed of the dog, or (3) the fact that the dog is kept chained or muzzled. Smith v. Royer (1919) 181 Cal. 165, 170; 1 California Torts (1994), "Strict Liability -- Animals," sec. 6.10[3], p. 6-10.
  • See also the cases holding that certain actions of the dog were sufficient to prove the dangerous propensity, in the prior section.

The one bite rule was announced by British judges in the 1600s, and it has no place in modern America.

Every dog bite has consequences. Every victim suffers, not just the ones who were bitten by a dog that bit a person before. Every medical bill must be paid, every ambulance company sends out its invoice, every pharmacy has a cash register.

The "one bite rule" was announced centuries ago, in pastoral England, when dogs, hogs, mules and sheep wandered aimlessly through towns, as a normal part of life. In those long-gone days, judges announced that the owner of a domestic animal would not be held liable until it bit someone first. There was no need for people to be vigilant about their animals because the law did not require people to take any level of responsibility until after a tragedy occurred.

This was centuries before the development of the pit bull and the passage of the first animal cruelty laws. It was a time when it was not illegal for your dog to wander to another person's property, and not illegal for that person to beat your dog or even kill it if need be. It was a time when there was no homeowners or renters insurance. It was a time when the USA and its principles of human rights did not even exist.

The one bite rule tells the people that it is okay for their dog to bite someone, once. That they are not responsible for it. That there is no consequence when it happens. That they can look the other way. Shrug it off. Forget about it.

The "one bite" rule has been roundly criticised by scholars and appellate judges, who have called for its repeal. "A dog should have no greater right to a first bite than one has to a first murder. And as between the dog owner and a blameless victim, the owner is almost certainly in the better position to judge the dog's proclivity to bite. Yet, under the ‘first bite' paradigm, one may be subjected, without recourse, to an animal's first attack, and that animal's owner has little incentive to guard against this potentially deadly event." Ruffin, J, concurring specially in Clark, et al., v. Joiner, 242 Ga. App. 421 (2000).

In modern America, our ideas about personal responsibility are far different. We believe that every one of us must be responsible for the harm that we might cause, and that might be caused by our things, our employees and our children, under our "watch."

We have developed far more equitable rules for determining fault and spreading risk. We also have created breeds of dog specifically for the purpose of killing, and animal cruelty laws that deter the rule-abiding citizen from defending himself and his family. The number of people being seriously injured and killed by dogs is rising steadily. (See Statistics.)

Because the one bite rule is clearly out of touch with American ideals, it has been rejected by the vast majority of American states and the District of Columbia. They have passed legislation that either wholly or partially supplants the "one bite rule," imposing strict liability on dog owners for dog bites, including the first bite. There is no "free bite" in those jurisdictions. (See Legal Rights of a Dog Bite Victim, which lists the states that have rejected the rule, contains links to the dog bite statutes throughout the USA.)

The one bite rule needs to be repealed everywhere. It needs to be replaced with a statute that makes every dog owner, keeper or harborer legally liable for any and all injuries caused by his or her dog, other than injuries that result from provocation or are inflicted upon a trespasser. If dog owners know that there will be consequences for every bite, then they will be less inclined to permit their dogs to roam, and there will be fewer injuries.

It is now essential for every state to demand from its dog owners not the level of responsibility appropriate for the citizens of an English town 400 years ago, but of modern America. When "defendants realize that they may be held liable, there is of course a strong incentive to prevent the occurrence of the harm. Not infrequently one reason for imposing liability is the deliberate purpose of providing that incentive." Prosser and Keeton on The Law of Torts, 4 at 25-26 (5th ed. 1984).

Over the past several years, the states that give every dog one free bite have seen more fatal dog attacks. (To see which states have which laws, see Legal Rights of Dog Bite Victims. See the breakdown of fatalities and state laws at Dog Bite Statistics.)

That lone statistic supports the view that the one bite rule needs to be abolished in the USA. This old English law demands little or no vigilance on the part of dog owners. A single dog owner can own one biting dog after another, without fear of civil liability, because every dog gets that one free bite, mauling or killing. (To learn more about the deadly one bite rule, see The One Bite Rule.)

Most American states and the District of Columbia have rejected the one bite rule in whole or part because its primary effect in modern times is to prevent dog bite victims from making insurance claims for anything more than medical expenses. (See Legal Rights of Dog Bite Victims in the USA for a list of the strict liability states, plus links to their laws.) Dog bites are covered by liability insurance, such as homeowners, renters and some umbrella insurance policies, but the victim still must prove that his claim rests on legal grounds. The one bite rule makes this difficult or impossible in many cases, and therefore benefits insurance companies at the expense of the injured, who are mostly children.

There should be no right to bite. The one bite rule should be rejected in every state and country. Children in one bite states like Texas, North Carolina and Maryland are entitled to the same rights as kids in strict liability states.

The "one bite rule," "first bite rule," and "one free bite rule" are different names for a legal doctrine that determines whether the owner of a domestic animal (such as a dog) can be held legally liable for injuries caused by that animal.

Overview of the one bite rule
Dangerous propensity
Knowledge or "scienter"
The history of the one bite rule
Criticism of the one bite rule
Plea to abolish the one bite rule