Dog Bite

Beware of the One Free Dog Bite Law in British Columbia

When it comes to dog bites the main question is, did the owner have knowledge of their dog showing aggressive behaviour prior to the incident?  This is referred to as the “One-Free Bite” Principle.  In legal terms, this is called the Doctrine of Scienter.  Don’t let this fancy term intimidate you, the term scienter simply refers to the question of whether or not the owner had previous knowledge about the dog’s potential to bite.

The term “One-Free Bite” can be misleading.  This does not mean every owner can allow their dog to bite someone once without consequence. What is in question is whether the owner had knowledge that their dog had a tendency for aggressive behaviour.  Furthermore, whether they did or did not take proper actions to prevent the dog from causing harm.  To establish if the owner of the dog can be held liable to the damage caused, the following three facts must be proven:

  1. The rightful owner of the dog;
  2. Proof of the dog showing aggressive behavior previously; and
  3. That the owner knew of the dog’s aggressive tendency.

To simplify, if the owner of a dog knew the dog was dangerous and their dog attacked someone, they could be found liable under the “One-Free Bite” Principle.

Yes, a dog is its own living creature with a mind of its own, but ultimately its owner should notice and be aware of aggressive behaviour and be the one in control.   The following factors are taken into consideration when determining the “One-Free Bite” Principle:

  • Previous bites
  • Barking at strangers
  • Threatening people
  • Jumping up on people
  • Chasing people
  • Fighting with other dogs
  • Previous complaints about the dog
  • The dog’s breed
  • “Beware of Dog” signs

In a significant number of US States insurance companies have an “aggressive dog list”, and many insurance companies will not provide home owner’s coverage if you own certain breeds of dogs. In the United States, dog bite claims account for more than 1/3 of all home owner’s insurance liability claims. The average cost of these payouts was $30,000 per claim in 2013. Dog bites can be very serious as they often attack the faces of their human victims. Aside from the emotional trauma of such attacks, the bites can lead to serious infections and permanent disfigurement. If the injuries are described as “Serious Permanent Disfigurement,” then the damages that are awarded by the courts increase in value. In San Francisco, the media provided a luridly detailed description of how a woman was viciously mauled to death by two Presa Canario dogs in the hallway of her apartment building. The owner of those two dogs was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.

Here in Victoria, BC there are numerous people who live on the street and own large dogs. In addition to companionship, in many cases, their owners look to them for protection from potential street violence.

A review of the various aggressive dog lists posted by insurance companies in the US commonly show these 14 dogs:

  • Pit Bull Terriers
  • Staffordshire Terriers
  • Rottweilers
  • German Shepherds
  • Presa Canarios
  • Chow Chows
  • Doberman Pinschers
  • Akitas
  • Wolf-hybrids
  • Mastiffs
  • Cane Corsos
  • Great Danes
  • Alaskan Malamutes
  • Siberian Huskies

If you own one of these breeds of dogs you are best advised to ensure your dog is properly secured on your property and there is some sort of barrier between your entrance and the outside doors so your dog cannot break free and attack someone who comes to your door.

In BC, we have bylaw enforcement officers who are specially trained to investigate dog bite incidents. They can be summoned to testify in situations where a dog bite has occurred, and they have prepared an investigation report. Often when a dog has bitten someone, and the injuries are significant, the owner will be required to relinquish the dog and it will be euthanized.

Know Your Rights

At Lambert Law, we recommend seeking legal advice to help guide you and protect your rights.   If you would like to learn more about your rights, we would be pleased to meet with you and answer your questions.  Contact us for a free, no obligation consultation.

Note to Reader:
This blog post is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only to provide general information and understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog, you understand that there is no client-lawyer relationship between you and the blog publisher. The blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed lawyer.

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