Does California have a "One-Bite Rule"?

California does not use the “one bite rule” for most dog bite cases. Instead, it holds dog owners strictly liable for the legal damages caused by their dog's bites.

However, there are exceptions to the strict liability law in California's dog bite statute. Where it does not apply, the one bite rule can become a factor. It can be used to show the defendant was negligent in restraining the dog. This can make them liable for your injuries. If they are found liable, they will have to pay compensation for your losses.

In this article, our California dog bite lawyers explain:

california one bite rule dog biting
California holds dog owners strictly liable for the legal damages caused by their dog’s bites

1. What is the one bite rule for dog bites?

The so-called “one bite rule” for dog bites holds people liable for injuries caused by their pets if they knew or should have known of the dog's dangerous tendencies.1

The one bite rule is named after the most important piece of evidence in dog bite cases. If a dog has bitten someone in the past, it puts the owner on notice of the dog's dangerous tendencies. Once the owner is on notice, they will be held liable for subsequent bites. They should have foreseen them happening and taken precautions to avoid them.

Example: Bob's dog Biff nips the mailman on the ankle, leaving red teeth marks without breaking the skin. While the mailman shrugs it off, Bob is on notice that Biff bites people.

1.1. How is the one bite rule different from a strict liability rule?

The one bite rule is different from a strict liability rule for dog bites because it requires proof that the owner did something wrong. Strict liability rules for dog bites hold the owner liable, even if they took every precaution necessary.

Example: Lucy is a gentle dog who has never bitten anyone. Her owner Tabatha locks Lucy in her cage before a dinner party because one of her guests is scared of dogs. If Lucy escapes and bites the guest, Tabatha would be liable in a state that follows the strict liability rule.

2. Does California use the one bite rule for dog attacks?

California enacted a strict liability law for dog bites in 1931. This law, California Civil Code 3342, supplanted the one bite rule in California. However, the one bite rule can still be a factor in dog bite cases that fall outside the scope of this statute.

California's main dog bite law is California Civil Code 3342. This law puts strict liability on dog owners for bites that happen either:

  • In public, or
  • Where the victim had a lawful right to be.

This leaves some important exceptions to the rule that dog owners are strictly liability for their dog attacks. These exceptions include:

  • The owner is not the one being sued,
  • The victim was a trespasser on the owner's property,
  • The dog was a law enforcement animal in the line of duty,
  • The victim was partially responsible for their injuries, and
  • The victim assumed the risk of being bitten by a dog.

Whenever one of these exceptions applies, dog bite victims cannot hold the owner strictly liable. However, they can still pursue compensation for their injuries by arguing that the owner was negligent.2

Example: Ruth is a Jehovah's Witness. She approaches Robert's door and gets knocked down by his dog, Bandit.

3. When can the one bite rule be used to show liability?

The one bite rule can be an important factor in California dog bite cases that fall outside the scope of Civil Code 3342. Victims who have been bitten by a dog, but who cannot rely on strict liability, can use a past bite to hold the dog owner liable. The prior bite can be proof that the owner knew their dog was dangerous. This knowledge subjects the owner to strict liability for future bites.

Common situations where the one bite rule can help victims recover compensation in California are:

  • The victim was a trespasser when they were bitten,
  • The victim works in a field that comes with the risk of being bitten by a dog, like a veterinarian, or
  • The person you are suing was not the owner of the dog.

Example: Nina gets bitten by a dog owned by someone who rents an apartment in a complex. The owner is judgment proof and has no dog bite insurance. Nina sues the apartment complex, claiming that it knew the dog was dangerous but took no action.

attorneys speaking with judge
There are several legal defenses to dog bite injury lawsuits

4. Are there defenses to the one bite rule?

Dog owners accused of allowing a dog bite when they knew of their dog's dangerous tendencies can raise several defenses to the claim. They can argue:

  • The victim assumed the risk of harm, and
  • The victim contributed to their injuries by provoking the dog or by trespassing.

5. Do other states use the one bite rule for dog bites?

The one bite rule has become a minority viewpoint for handling dog bite cases. Only 16 states officially follow the one bite rule. They are:

  • Alaska,
  • Arkansas,
  • Idaho,
  • Kansas,
  • Maryland,
  • Mississippi,
  • Nevada,
  • New Mexico,
  • New York,
  • North Dakota,
  • Oregon,
  • South Dakota,
  • Texas,
  • Vermont,
  • Virginia, and
  • Wyoming.

The other states have passed strict liability statutes, just like California. Some of them, though, still use a prior bite as evidence of liability when their strict liability statute does not apply.

6. Do dogs with a history of biting people have to be euthanized in California?

In California, dogs with a history of biting people can be taken from their owners and euthanized after a hearing.3

This hearing process can be initiated by:

  • A government official, or
  • Any member of the public, including neighbors, friends, or dog bite victims.

The hearing process can be initiated if:

  • The dog has bitten people on at least 2 separate occasions, or
  • The dog was raised to fight or attack people, and has bitten 1 person.

The hearing will center on whether the dog is a threat to public safety. If the dog is deemed a threat, it will be put down.

Call us for help…

california dog bite attorneys
Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

Dog bites that fall outside the scope of California's strict liability statute are more difficult to win. They require more evidence that the dog owner was at fault. However, you still deserve compensation for your losses. Contact our dog bite lawyers in California today to get started on your case. Reaching out soon after you have been bitten is important: The statute of limitations can prevent you from winning if you wait too long.


Legal References:

  1. See Borns v. Voss, 70 P.3d 262 (Wyo. 2003) (citing Restatement (Second) Torts, § 509).

  2. See Drake v. Dean, 19 Cal. Rptr.2d 325 (Cal. App. 1993).

  3. California Civil Code 3342.5.

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