Injury Inflicted by Animals
Household pets and farm animals.
The predisposition of an animal to inflict harm.
Abnormal Dangerous Propensity:
A predisposition which is not typical for a particular type of animal.
One Free Bite Rule:
A doctrine which insulates a dog owner for strict liability in the event that his dog has bitten someone but has never bitten anyone before.
Whether strict liability is applied in cases involving
harm caused by animals depends on whether the harm was inflicted by
a domestic animal or a wild animal, and whether or not the injury was
the result of the animal’s natural dangerous propensities or an
abnormal dangerous propensity. Domestic animals include household pets
and livestock (livestock is loosely defined to include typical farm
(1) The harm inflicted by the animal needs to be the result of a dangerous propensity. See Greeley v. Jameson, 164 N.E. 385 (Mass. 1929).
(2) That dangerous propensity needs to be abnormal
for the animal (if the dangerous propensity is typical for that type
of animal, the owner is not strictly liable).
(4) The harm must arise from the known dangerous propensity.
Here's an example:
(1) Sigfried is bitten by Roy’s house cat.
If Roy knew that his cat had a tendency to bite strangers and biting
is not typical behavior for house cats, Roy will be strictly liable
for the harm that Sigfried suffers. Again, in order for strict liability
to apply, the dangerous propensity must be known to the owner, must
be abnormal for the animal, and the harm must arise from that known
dangerous propensity. Thus, if Sigfried is injured because he tripped
over Roy’s cat, strict liability will not apply because Sigfried’s
injuries did not arise from the known dangerous propensity.
Where the plaintiff is bitten by a dog which has never displayed dangerous propensities, the defendant is not strictly liable for the injuries. This is called the “one free bite” rule. See Jividen v. Law, 461 S.E.2d 451 (W. Va. 1995). However, several states have passed statutes eliminating the “one free bite” rule and imposed strict liability, even though that dog had never displayed any dangerous tendencies.
Where the plaintiff is injured by the defendant’s wild animals, the defendant is strictly liable even for harm caused by the animals’ normal dangerous propensities. Further, it is not necessary that the defendant know about the dangerous propensities before the plaintiff is injured. Thus, the defendant will be strictly liable for any harm caused by wild animals regardless of whether the harm is caused from normal or abnormal dangerous propensities and regardless of whether the defendant knew of those dangerous propensities before the injury.. See Cowden v. Bear Country, Inc., 382 F.Supp. 1321 (D.S.D. 1974). For example:
Roy owns two rare white Bengal tigers which he lets roam freely on his property. White Bengal tigers are naturally aggressive and commonly attack humans. Roy is not aware that the tigers have these natural aggressive propensities. One day, Sigfried, Roy’s best friend, stops by to say hello. As Sigfried is walking across Roy’s property, one of the tigers attacks him. Sigfried is mauled by the tiger and severely injured. Here, even though the attack was a manifestation of the tiger’s normal dangerous propensities and even though Roy was unaware of this normal dangerous propensity, Roy will be liable to Sigfried because the tiger was a wild animal and a defendant is strictly liable for any harm caused by wild animals even if the harm is caused from the animal’s normal dangerous propensities and even if the defendant did not know of those dangerous propensities before the injury.
However, strict liability will not apply where wild
animals are kept under a public duty. Thus, people like zoo keepers
are not strictly liable for injuries inflicted by animals under their
care. Plaintiffs in such cases would have to prove ordinary negligence.
here to go to the Land Occupiers lesson for a review of the various
levels of duty to persons entering onto the defendant's property.