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Veterinarian’s Rule

The “Veterinarian’s Rule” in the context of Dog Bite Legislation in California

The “Veterinarian’s Rule” details a category of inherent risk assumption in dog bite cases. This rule proclaims that someone who works with dogs in a professional or occupational capacity, voluntarily assumes the risk of a dog bite unless the following conditions are met:

  1. The dog’s owner or handler was aware, or should have known, of the dog’s history of aggression or dangerous behavior
  2. The dog’s owner failed to inform the professional worker of the dog’s predisposition for dangerous or aggressive behavior.

The following sections provide a comprehensive outline of The “Veterinarian’s Rule”.

1. California’s dog bite legislation overview

Civil Code 3342 is California’s dog bite law and it imposes “strict liability” for dog bites in California. This means that dog owners are held strictly liable for their aggressive dog, even if the dog has no demonstrated history of biting or aggressive behavioral displays.

California, unlike some other states, does not have or adhere to a “one-bite” rule.

Strict liability entails that dog owners are held liable for injuries to third parties during any applicable incident that involve a dog bite. The Veterinarian’s Rule, however, poses an exclusion and exception to strict liability.

2. What does California legislation define as the “assumption of the risk”?

California’s “assumption of the risk” legislation is applicable to individuals who voluntarily participate in an activity considered risky. Individuals who voluntarily assume risk are unable to succeed in injuries related or resulting from these activities unless the following conditions are met:

  • The defendant acted in a manner that was reckless or blatantly negligent resulting in the plaintiff’s injuries
  • The conduct of the defendant was completely outside the scope or range of how an individual would conventionally act during said activity

3. What does the California “Veterinarian’s Rule” entail?

In California, the “Veterinarian’s Rule” represents one specific type of “risk assumption. This rule classifies working with canines in an occupational capacity as inherently risky. Individuals who work with dogs voluntarily are deemed as having assumed the risk of dog bite under this rule.

The “Veterinarian’s Rule” permits a liability shift from a dog bite owner, to the individual who works with dogs, that has assumed the inherent risk of his or her occupation. The “Veterinarian’s Rule” branches from a rule known as the “Fireman’s Rule,” which similarly dictates that individuals who work as firemen, assume the inherent risk of incurring injuries by fire, as a result of their occupation.

The Veterinarians Rule and the Fireman’s Rule are also commonly referred to as “occupation assumption of risk,” as both occupations may incur injuries from relevant workplace hazards.

The “Veterinarian’s Rule” would likely apply to a professional dog walker who pursues a dog bite lawsuit against a dog owner.

3.1. What individuals does the Veterinarian’s Rule apply to?

The Veterinarian’s Rule is applicable to any party or individual that works with dogs in a professional capacity. The following list encompasses those individuals whom the rule may apply to:

  • Veterinarians,
  • Veterinary technicians,
  • Dog or pet groomers,
  • Professional dog walkers
  • Professional dog trainers

It is critical to note that that rule only stands when a dog does not have a prior, known history of biting or other aggressive behavioral tendencies.

3.2. In what exceptional cases does the Veterinarian’s Rule not apply?

The Veterinarian’s Rule does is not applicable in the following scenarios:

  1. The dog’s owner was aware of the dog’s history of aggressive or dangerous behavior, in addition to
  2. The dog’s owner failing to notify or warn the individual working with the dog in a professional capacity, of the dog’s aggressive tendencies.

Veterinarians and others who work with dogs in an occupational or professional capacity can only transparently assume the risk of dog bites if the following conditions are met:

  • The dog does not have a history of biting or demonstrated aggressive or dangerous behavior
  • The workers has been informed of the dog’s violent tendencies and has agreed to work with the animal regardless of its history of aggression

Consider The Following Fictitious Scenario:

Robert has a kind Pomeranian named Harley that he adopted from a local dog rescue group. Pomeranians are conventionally considered, sweet, cute and even-tempered dog breeds.

Robert takes Harley to a professional dog groomer to have his nails trimmed. If Harley bites the groomer, the groomer will not be able to sue Robert for her dog bite injuries, because of her occupation assumption of risk. By voluntarily working with dog, the professional groomer assumes the inherent risk of a dog bite in California, as according to the Veterinarian’s Rule.


Hypothetically, consider that Harley’s preveious owner used Harley in criminal dogfighting rounds in California. Although Robert has never witnessed Harley act dangerously or aggressively, he was informed when he adopted him that he may react by biting when threatened.

If Robert tells this information to the groomer and the groomer agrees to trim Harley’s nails regardless, then the groomer is unable to sue if Harley bites the groomer and demonstrates aggression.

However, if Robert fails to warn the professional groomer of Harley’s history of biting and aggression, the Veterinarian’s Rule will not protect Robert in a dog bite lawsuit. In this case, the groomer has not assumed the risk of working with a dangerous dog because the groomer was not informed of the associated risk of bite.

4. Is it possible to circumvent the Veterinarian’s Rule in a dog bite lawsuit?

In order to pursue a dog bite lawsuit, individual who fall under the Veternarian’s Rule, as a result of their professional occupations, will be required to prove the following:

  1. The dog owner was aware or should have been aware of their dog’s history of aggressive or dangerous behavior.
  2. The dog’s owner failed to properly notify or warn the animal worker, that the dog is capable of aggression or biting.

The above listed conditions are indications of the dog owner’s awareness of his or her dog’s aggressive or dangerous nature.

These conditions are increasingly difficult for dog workers to prove. Evidence of the owner’s knowledge of the dog’s behavioral tendencies can be inferred and collected from the following stipulations:

Statements the owner makes following the dog bite incident

Example statement: “Typically, when the dog has bitten before, he does not puncture skin.”

Statements the dog owner makes to external, third parties

Local health ordinances often require a formal report to be filed if a dog has demonstrated biting or aggressive behavior. This is critical for tracking rabies infections. Although formal reports and protocols are not always followed, it is worth checking with local law enforcement and health officials to see if there is a record of a registered dog bite, from the aggressive dog in question.

California “negligence per se” stipulation

In California, the “negligence per se” statute deems dog owners liable if they violate local or state health ordinances, or public safety laws. Most of the time, this legislation pertains to local ordinances governing animal control.

There are two state laws that may be applicable in this scenario:

  • Penal Code 399, Failing to control a dangerous animal.
  • Penal Code 597, California’s law against animal abuse or cruelty
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