Get Rid of the One Bite Law

When a dog injures a person, whether by biting him, knocking him down or hurting him in another way, the burden of the loss should be on the shoulders of the owner of the dog, not the victim. Two-thirds of American states and the District of Columbia follow this rule. (See Legal rights of a dog bite victim.)

However, the remainder do not. These states have retained the ancient English rule which says that the burden of the first injury falls on the victim. This is called the “one bite rule” or the “first bite free rule.” (See The one bite rule.) In a “one bite state,” a child who, for example, becomes disfigured by a neighbor’s dog is not compensated.

Exactly who is benefiting from the one bite rule? Insurance companies! Dog bite victims receive compensation from homeowner insurance and renter insurance policies. The dog owners do not have to pay a deductible. When the one bite rule puts the burden of a dog bite on the victim, the insurance company of the dog owner is the beneficiary. In fact, this hurts not only the victim, but even the dog owner in 75% of dog bite incidents, because the victim is a member of the dog owner’s family, a friend or a neighbor 75% of the time. The one bite rule thus gets the insurance company out of paying compensation even if the dog owner feels responsible toward the family member, friend or neighbor.

The one bite rule is outdated and unfair, and state legislatures must discard it and replace it with strict liability for canine-inflicted injuries.