Veterinarian’s Rule in Dog Bite Cases

Dog bites are not uncommon in vet offices, but that doesn’t mean that a pet owner is automatically exempt from liability when their dog bites vet staff. Different factors come into play if your dog bites someone in the vet’s office and it’s important to inform your lawyer of everything that happened. As a general rule in California, certain persons who work with dogs cannot sue if a dog bites them while in their place of work. There are, however, certain exceptions to this defense in dog bite personal injury cases.

Assumption of Risk

Working in a veterinarian’s office is an assumption of risk under California law. It is safe to assume that anyone who works in a vet’s office is well aware of the foreseeable dangers of working with animals. Put in layman’s terms, it’s as if the law is saying “you knew what you were getting into; you understood there was a risk of getting bitten, so don’t complain now.”

Knowledge of previous violence

The veterinarian’s rule applies only when the owner of the dog is not aware of any previous violent history for their pet. If they are aware of any violent episodes or history, then the veterinarian’s rule may still apply if they warn the person working with the dog of the dog’s violent history.

Take note that the important thing to remember here is knowledge. Say, for example, you adopted a shelter dog.  The dog is a rescue from a dogfighting ring, but you weren’t informed of this. While staying with you, the dog does not exhibit any violence at all. Then suddenly, the dog attacks the vet when you come for a visit. In this case, it’s immaterial that the dog had a previous history of violence. What is important is whether you as the owner were aware of the dog’s violent history.

Such knowledge can be tricky to prove in court, which is why it’s an important aspect of dog bite litigation. Statements made by the pet owner, for example, can be used to show that the owner knew of the dog’s violent tendency, even if they claim otherwise. 

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