One Bite Rule Versus Strict Liability In Premises Liability Claims

New York is considering adopting a rule of strict liability for actual medical expenses incurred after a dog attack. This would replace the existing “one bite rule” wherein a dog owner is not automatically liable if his or her dog attackssomeone without warning. The proposed change was inspired, in part, by the story of Frankie Flora. Frankie is an 8-year-old boy who, with the help of his mother, has pushed for the law following a vicious attack that has forced him to undergo multiple surgeries to his face and scalp.

More than half of all dog bite victims in the United States are children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rates are highest for children between the ages of 5 and 9. More than 4.7 million bites occur annually throughout the country, and in many cases the dog owners had no reason to suspect that their dog might attack.

The one-bite rule ignores the fact that every dog must be considered a risk for an attack. It makes it much harder for victims of dog bites to collect compensation for the medical costs incurred because of an attack. Strict liability puts the onus on dog owners to make sure that their animals are properly socialized and trained, or failing that, that they are kept out of situations where they could bite an innocent victim.

Regardless of the law, children should be taught basic safety rules about interacting with dogs. Approaching a strange dog and attempting to pet it without letting it see and sniff you first is a recipe for disaster. Children should not be afraid of dogs, but they should understand how to behave with dogs to help prevent dog bites.

Source: WNYT.com, “Young dog bite victim lobbies for tougher liability at NYS Capitol,” by Bill Lambdin, 14 June 2012