There is no federal dog law that is applicable in all the states of the US. All states have adopted individual dog laws and thus the owner liability for dog bites differs from state to state. There are two main laws that govern owner liability for dog bites, which are:
1) The ‘One Bite Rule’: Some states have the 'one bite rule' which establishes owner liability for a dog bite. Under this rule, a dog is allowed one free bite and the owner cannot be held liable for the dog’s first bite or injury to another, provided that the owner was not negligent in his actions to control the dog because of which it bit the other person. The 'one bite rule' will also not protect the dog owner if the owner was in violation of other protective dog laws such as requiring a leash on the dog, not letting the dog run loose in public places, etc.
If the owner was not negligent, did not violate any other dog laws, and it was the dog’s first bite, then the owner does not have liability under the one bite rule.
However, there is an exception to this rule too. The one bite rule does not allow one free bite to a dog that has a ‘propensity’ to be dangerous. This means, if the dog bite victim can prove that the dog has a dangerous propensity and the owner was or should have been aware of the dog's dangerous behavior, then the one bite rule will not apply. Dangerous propensity of a dog can be established in the following situations:
There are many other actions and behavior of the dog that can constitute dangerous propensity. This has become such a strong point of debate that many states have switched over to the ‘strict liability’ rule for establishing liability of dog owners for bites.
2) Strict Liability Rule: Under this rule, the owner of a dog is liable for any injuries caused if his dog bites anyone, irrespective of whether it was the first bite or not. In states where the strict liability rule applies, just the fact that you are the owner of the dog that bit someone is enough to hold you responsible for the dog bite.
Even if you took all the necessary precautions, did not violate any other dog laws, had no idea that your dog was dangerous, or were not negligent in any manner, you are still liable for your dog bite, because the basic premise of the strict liability rule is that of simple ownership of the dog. In other words, if it’s your dog that bit someone, you are legally responsible for the dog bite.
However, the strict liability rule also offers some protection to dog owners. A dog owner cannot be held responsible if his dog bites someone, if any of the following conditions exist:
The owner liability for a dog bite thus depends on where you live and which dog law applies in that state.
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