In a previous entry, the concept of “strict liability” in the implementation of Rhode Island’s dog laws was briefly discussed. It was mentioned that a party aggrieved by dog bites or injuries to his or her person or to his or her own property, i.e., pets, caused by an errant canine belonging to another person, with the harm or injury occurring outside the property of the errant canine’s owner or keeper, is more or less automatically entitled to damages. The latter are claimed through a civil action, along with costs of suit.
Image source: http://www.1888goodwin.com
In other words, when “strict liability” is applicable, the owner or keeper of the offending dog practically has no defense under the circumstances. Once the harm or injury occurs, liability attaches to the offending dog’s owner or keeper, regardless of whether or not the harm or injury could have been prevented or is preventable or whether or not there was fault or negligence on the part of the offending dog’s owner or keeper. The previous behavior of the dog is also irrelevant. The focal point is the location of the offending dog when it caused the harm or injury.
Now, what if the harm or injury to the party aggrieved occurs within the premises of the offending canine’s owner or keeper? The “strict liability” rule would not apply.
The liability of the owner or keeper of the offending canine would now depend on whether he or she knew or should have known that the dog might bite or cause injury, and whether he or she took necessary precautions based on that knowledge. This is commonly known as the “one-bite rule,” the term being somewhat misleading. The point is, when the harm or injury caused by the offending dog occurs inside the property of its owner or keeper, the degree of negligence, if any, of the latter is inquired into for the court to deliberate on whether or not damages should be awarded to the aggrieved party.
If the offending dog has bitten or caused injury beforehand, its owner or keeper is charged with knowledge of the dog’s propensity to cause harm. Thus, a finding of negligence on the part of the owner or keeper, which would entitle the aggrieved party to damages, would now depend on whether the owner or keeper undertook measures to prevent the harm or injury from occurring inside his or her premises.
Image source: http://www.911law.org