What Should Dog Owners Know About The "One Bite" Rule?

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Dogs have a rich history of protecting the lives of their human family members, and are rightfully referred to as "man's best friend." However, in this quest for protection of their "pack," some dogs may inadvertently cause harm to a neighbor, friend, or other visitor to your home. The legal and financial impact of a dog bite can be enormous -- even if you live in one of the states that allows a "free" bite for non-dangerous breeds. Read on to learn more about the "one bite" law and what you should do to shield yourself from potential liability if you believe your dog may have the propensity to cause physical damage to someone. 

What is the "one bite" rule?

Each state has certain laws specifically governing injury from dog bites. Because the financial fallout for most dog bites is covered by an insurance policy (either the defendant's homeowners insurance policy or the victim's health insurance), insurance lobbyists in many states have encouraged the passage of legislation to prescribe much harsher penalties and deterrents for dogs who bite.

Eighteen states have a fairly restrictive policy termed the "one bite" rule. This policy states that knowledge of a single biting incident -- sometimes even a playful nip as a puppy -- can subject the owner to full legal liability if the dog later bites someone and causes an injury. So for example, if a neighborhood child is pulling your dog's tail and your dog pulls away and snaps at the child (without making contact), you'll be fully responsible if the dog ever bites another person (even if provoked).

What should you do to protect yourself from liability for damages caused by your dog's bite?

Even a relatively minor dog bite can subject you (or your homeowners insurance policy) to thousands of dollars in legal fees, medical bills, and other expenses. If your state abides by the one-bite rule, you may already be on notice that your dog could cause damage -- and if a potential plaintiff learns of this knowledge, you could find yourself facing a lengthy court battle. However, there are several steps you can take to minimize your potential liability if your dog does snap at someone.

Signs stating "Beware of Dog" aren't always there for intimidation or humorous purposes -- in many cases, they're meant to serve as legal protection for an owner who can argue that a potential victim should have been aware that the dog could have posed a danger and instead ignored this notice. If you've ever been infuriated by news stories reporting of burglars who have successfully sued homeowners for dog bites incurred while the plaintiffs were committing a crime, a simple sign can help absolve you of all potential liability in such a situation.

In many cases, your homeowner's insurance policy may not offer sufficient protection against personal injury lawsuits. For example, your plan may have a maximum payout for certain types of injuries -- and if a severe bite is suffered, you may find yourself personally liable for any expenses exceeding that cap. In some situations, this may be enough to knock you into bankruptcy.

By purchasing an umbrella insurance policy, you'll be able to enjoy additional protections with a much higher potential payout. In some cases, an umbrella policy may even cover your legal fees or other expenses incurred in defending against a personal injury lawsuit. Because umbrella policies don't pay out until your underlying policy limits have been exhausted (a relatively rare occurrence), this insurance is usually available at a very low cost when compared to the amount of coverage provided.

For more information about personal injury law, look at companies like Daniels Long & Pinsel.