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Does California use the “one bite rule” for dogs?

You’re a friendly sort and you love animals in general, so it’s second nature for you to want to pet every dog you see. When you were outside your favorite coffee shop, you noticed a pretty little bull terrier sitting with their owner. You asked if you could pet the dog before you made a move — and the owner gave their consent.

The bull terrier, however, had other ideas. Without any kind of warning, the dog turned and latched on to your hand. You now have a lot of stitches and may need surgery — and you’re definitely off work for a while.

The dog’s owner says that they aren’t liable for your injuries because they had no idea that their dog might attack — and it never attacked anyone before. And, as the owner reminds you, you were the one who wanted to pet the dog.

The fact that the dog had no history of attacks doesn’t actually matter. While some states follow the “one bite rule” that says an owner can’t be held liable for a dog bite if they had no knowledge that the dog was prone to biting, California makes no such exception. Owners are strictly liable for the damage their dogs cause to people.

The owner may try to assert that you’re at least partially responsible for your own injury because you tried to pet the dog. If they’re successful, California’s comparative negligence law can allow the court to reduce any financial settlement you may be due by the percentage of fault that’s assigned to you. However, they may not be successful — especially since you asked for and received permission before you reached toward the dog.

If you’ve been bitten by someone’s dog, don’t assume that you can’t recover for your losses without a fight. Talk to an experienced attorney bout your case instead.