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Understanding the "one bite rule"

A common response heard from dog owners in Spokane after their pets have been involved in attacks is that the animals never displayed any sort of aggressive tendencies before. This is likely done in hopes of earning leniency on both themselves and their dogs. One's personal history is often taken into account when determining punitive action for an offense; should it be any different with an animal? 

Many states say no. Indeed, a legal philosophy has been developed known as "the one bite rule." Essentially, it may absolve a dog owner of liability for an attack if their dog had never before been aggressive towards a person. According to the Legal Information Institute, in cases involving the one bite rule, the attack victim often bears the burden of proving that the dog that bit them was prone to attacks, and that the owner should have known this. 

Application of the one bite rule is something that is determined at the state level. The question then becomes whether Washington recognizes it. Section 16.08.040 of the Revised Code of Washington defines the state's stance on dog bites. Here it states that the owner is liable for an attack even if there were no prior indication that the animal could be vicious. Thus, the one bite rule does not apply. 

It should be noted, however, that certain elements must be present in order for this statute to apply. Chief among these is that the attack must have occurred on either public property or private property on which the victim had a legal right to be (including the dog owner's land). There are limitations to this law, as well. For example, it may not apply in cases where the one bitten was intentionally provoking the animal. 

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