What you Need to Know about the “Veterinarian’s Rule” in California

Dog Attack Attorneys
Lawyers For Dog Bites

The “Veterinarian’s Rule” transfers responsibility for a dog bite from the dog owner to the one who works with dogs. What this does is that it keeps such workers from holding people strictly liable for dog bites. As per the rule, one who works with these animals assumes the risk in a voluntary way of a bite, except if:

  • The dog’s handler or owner understood, or should have understood, that the dog might be or was dangerous; and,
  • Either of those parties failed to warn the worker of the tendency of their dog to behave dangerously.

To help you understand how this rule works as an argument in support of your dog’s actions, dog attack attorneys discuss the following.

California Dog Bite Statute

As per the statute, Civil Code 3342, a dog owner is strictly liable for his or her dog’s actions even if he or she was not to blame for a dog bite. Even if one’s dog does not have a history of aggressive behavior or biting, this statute forces strict liability on dog owners for dog bites.

Unlike some other US states, like Nevada, there is no one-free-bite rule in California. This means dog owners are responsible for injuries to others when their dog bites somebody unless an exception like the Veterinarian’s Rule is there.

“Assumption of the Risk”

This doctrine applies to those who voluntarily indulge in a dangerous activity. Such individuals will not be able to win a California lawsuit for injuries, which happens because of such activity except if:

  • The defendant party was reckless or grossly negligent or deliberately injured the plaintiff party; or,
  • The conduct of the defendant was fully beyond the range of the things that one would normally be expected to perform during such activity.

The Veterinarian’s Rule and the Fireman’s Rule

Under the former rule, it is considered inherently risky to work with dogs. People choose to voluntarily work with them acknowledging that a dog bite is an occupational hazard. After all, dogs bite someone they are not all that familiar with as a defense mechanism. Professionals like vets know that it could happen when on the job, and chooses to work with dogs in spite of that risk.

This is similar to the Fireman’s Rule in that firefighters take a similar approach to their job: they plunge themselves into fire spots knowing that it could result in injuries.

Furthermore, the Veterinarian’s Rule would probably apply in circumstances where professional dog walkers get bitten by a dog and file a lawsuit against its owner.

Who Does This Rule Apply To?

It applies to any person working with dogs, such as:

  • Veterinarians;
  • Groomers;
  • Veterinary technicians;
  • Dog trainers; and,
  • Dog walkers.

Then again, it applies only when a dog does not have a known history of behavior which could be dangerous, including biting.

When Does It Not Apply?

This rule does not apply if:

  • The dog’s handler or owner suspects or knows that their dog is dangerous; plus,
  • They fail to warn the one working with their dog.

Vets and other people who work with dogs assume the risk only when:

  • They are on notice or have been told that the dog is dangerous, and they voluntarily choose to work with it anyway; or,
  • The dog has no biting history and is not deemed dangerous.


Annie has a Pug named Chelsea that she adopted from a rescue group and that does not get easily irritated. Pugs are usually a laid-back breed.

Annie takes Chelsea to a dog groomer to have its nails trimmed. If Chelsea bites the groomer, then he or she cannot sue Annie for his or her injuries. By working with it in a voluntary manner, the dog groomer is assuming the risk that comes with it.

However, let us say that Chelsea’s previous owner used it in criminal dogfighting. While Annie has not seen her pug act dangerously, she was informed when she adopted Chelsea that it may bite once threatened.

If Annie told this to the dog groomer, and if he or she agrees to trim Chelsea’s nails anyway, then the groomer will not be able to sue if Chelsea bites him or her. Then again, if Annie does not inform this to the groomer, then this rule will not protect her in a lawsuit. The groomer has not been informed and was unaware that the dog in question is deemed dangerous; hence, he or she has not really assumed the risk associated with working with such a dog.

How Can I Prove the Dog Owner Knew their Dog Was Dangerous?

Now, this is the trickiest part of a dog bite case involving those working with dogs. Evidence of the knowledge of the dog owner can include the following.

  • The things he or she said post the incident (Example: “My dog has not drawn blood previously when he bites”).
  • Prior complaints to the local health officer or law enforcement.
  • Statements the dog owner made to others (Example: I felt veterinary technicians were supposed to have the capability to handle bitey dogs).

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