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Every Dog Gets One Bite

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There is a common phrase - every dog has his day. Many know it to mean that everyone gets their chance. Law students and lawyers know it refers to a well-known legal idea, that every dog gets one bite. It means that liability does not attach to someone whose dog has bitten someone unless that dog has previously bitten someone else. The reasoning behind this rule is that you should not be responsible if your dog bites another person unless you knew or had reason to know that your dog would do it. Thus, every dog gets one bite that their owner will generally not be liable for.

Dog Bite Case Study

This rule about dogs can sometimes confront other legal rules and the outcome can be uncertain. A recent appeals court case looked at whether a landlord can be legally responsible for its tenant's dog's actions. A woman was bitten by her friend's dogs when she visited them at the apartment they rented. She sued her friends and the landlord who they rented the property from.

In some cases, a landlord has been held responsible for its tenant's dog's bites. In an earlier case, the landlord was aware that one of its tenants owned a large German Shepherd and that it had bitten another person. The landlord was held liable when a small child was seriously injured by the German Shepherd in a common area of the rental property. The court held that the landlord had previous knowledge that the German Shepherd was dangerous.

In the recent case, the landlord had no knowledge whether the dog had bitten anyone or had any violent tendencies. In fact, the landlord had never seen the dog before, nor did he know that a dog lived in the apartment (though a dog was not prohibited by the lease). Unlike the prior case, this landlord here had no reason to know that the dog might be dangerous. The upper court granted this grace period to dog owners and landlords alike - they should not be held liable for the acts of their dog unless they had reason to believe the dog could have hurt someone. It therefore held that the landlord could not be held responsible for the woman's injuries.

Key Points

If you ever find yourself in a situation involving dog bites, this is an important rule to keep in mind when trying to determine if there is liability to an owner or a landlord. Knowledge of a dog's violent tendencies, such as through a previous biting incident, is the only way for there to be liability.

Angela Yu is a New Jersey and New York attorney with a multifaceted practice area focusing in corporate, real estate and general contract law. She uses her interest in real life application of the law to author articles and other scholarship on a broad range of cutting-edge legal and business topics. Ms. Yu is a published legal author and holds a J.D. and M.B.A. from Rutgers School of Law and Rutgers Business School. Neither she nor Mike Farhi provides legal advice on this website. This blog post and any blog posts do not constitute legal advice.

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