Courtesy of the White House
I previously wrote about the historical and legal perspective of a biting incident involving one of the president’s pets, Major. Both Biden German Shepherds (Major and Champ) were brought out of town beforehand. They were then brought back quietly. Now Major has bitten another person who allegedly needed medical attention. In the previous column, I noted that under tort law, a dog is given (at most) “one free bite” before strict liability applies. Major could now be treated as a known vicious animal for liability reasons.
Major was adopted from a shelter in November 2018.
The most recent incident involved a National Park Service employee who was bitten on the South White House lawn on Monday afternoon.
First Lady Jill Biden’s press secretary Michael LaRosa told CNN, “Yes, Major caught someone out on a walk. Out of caution, the person was seen by WHMU and then returned to work. “
The difference between “pinched” and “bitten” is that you will be bitten by other people’s dogs. However, your dog will only nibble on what is somewhere on the spectrum between a lick and a complete devour.
As already mentioned, the question always arose whether Major was entitled to “a free bite”. The “One Free Bite Rule” is an often misunderstood Torts doctrine that indicates that you are only subject to strict liability after your dog has bite for the first time. In fact, if you know, or have a reason to, your pet’s malignancy, you are subject to strict liability. This can be satisfied by behaviors such as frequent snapping or aggressive behavior. In fact, this was the evidence used in the famous San Francisco case involving lawyers and dog owners Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel. They were held both criminally and civilly liable after their two Presa Canario dogs killed the apartment’s neighbor, Diane Whipple. Various neighbors complained about the dogs the couple inherited from a convict. Paul “Cornfed” Schneider is a well-known member of the Aryan Brotherhood and planned a watchdog business called “Dog-O-War”. Three days after Whipple’s death, the couple adopted Schneider as their son. The dogs hadn’t bitten anyone but were known to be aggressive. Reports from the previous biting incident indicate that he exhibited aggressive behavior, including barking and charges against White House staff and security. This could negate the need for an actual bite, as it could be claimed that Major den Bidens’ malevolent propensity was or should have been known.
Following the previous incident, White House press secretary Jen Psaki described the injury as “minor” and insisted that Major was only “getting used to and used to her surroundings and new people.” He was then sent to Delaware with Champ. It was synonymous with a politician going into “treatment” at the height of a scandal. Major was later returned to the White House but still does not appear to have “acclimatized”.
Ordinarily, the victim could easily sue the Bidens, including for strict liability in most states. Indeed, many states are now simply applying strict liability or have “hybrid” systems that impose higher liability than the traditional “one bite” rule. Washington, DC is more complex with a number of regulations that might apply. However, the city has laws that impose liability for dogs being allowed to run free before injury. This, of course, becomes a little more difficult when a dog is allowed to roam free in a large government residence like the White House.
Section 8-1808 states, “No owner of an animal shall allow the animal to walk free.” The term “at large” is defined in Section 8-1801 (a) (1) (A) as “ the term “animal at large” means any animal that is found outside its owner’s premises and is not kept on a leash or otherwise in close proximity to control of a person who is able to physically restrain it. “
The liability section is in section 8-1812, which states, “If a dog injures a person in general, the lack of knowledge of the dog’s malignancy alone cannot absolve the owner from a decision of negligence.”
To make matters worse, the bite did not only occur on the premises of the official seat and within the federal property.
Apart from these distinctions, was Major “at large”? The subsection states that the dog “was outside the owner’s premises. . . nor otherwise under the immediate control of a person able to physically restrain them. “The main problem is the meaning of” nor “. It does not mean “or” to clearly mean that you may be held liable for either an off-site bite or an on-site bite when the dog is not under control. This interpretation makes little sense under this construction. Why should an off-site bite be reported when the owner can be held liable regardless of location on the site? The more natural reading is that the rule does not apply to bites on an owner’s premises. Strict liability without the need for knowledge (either a prior bite or evidence of malignant propensity) is imposed when the dog is both at large and not on a leash or controlled.
The question then arises whether there is liability for bites on an owner’s premises. Presumably, an owner can negligently fail to take adequate measures to protect the licensees or invited persons on the property. Thus, the Bidens could still be sued for negligence if they failed to take reasonable steps after learning of Major’s propensity to bite.
Alternatively, this could be a matter of federal tort law as personal injury occurring on federal property. Fortunately, Major is not viewed as a government official entitled to immunity for discretionary functions, including the occasional “sip” identified by the press secretary.