The Veterinarian Rule: In California – Not A Bar to Common Law Strict Liability

dog dressed as a veterinarian

Written By Bruce Thabit

Bruce Thabit is the owner of and has counseled numerous dog bite victims and their families. A recognized authority on dog bite law. A skilled, knowledgeable, experienced civil litigator since 1988. Call toll free number for free consult: Telephone: 1-844-444-0449.

Date September 21, 2016

California Dog Bite Law: The Veterinarian Rule

The Veterinarian Rule is applied in some states including California. Now in California dog bite law, the veterinarian rule is a defense under primary assumption of risk to a theory of recovery based on the California Dog Bite Statute. However, it is not a bar to a common law strict liability claim. Namely, the veterinarian rule is applicable to vets and their employees, dog groomers and kennel workers.

The Veterinarian Rule Is Not an Absolute Bar to a DogBite Lawsuit

Knowledge of how the veterinarian rule is applied is necessary to determine the merits of a dog bite lawsuit. Our office has successfully litigated cases by achieving fair settlement compensation where the veterinarian rule was pled as a defense.

For instance, the defense may be waived by contract. A written contract between veterinarian, dog groomer or kennel and the dog owner that expressly waives the veterinarian rule; assumption of risk vitiates the defense.

The Veterinarian Rule as a Defense to the California Dog Bite Statute

In California, the veterinarian rule may be pled as a defense to the California Dog Bite Statute. But it does not follow, that it is a defense to a theory of recovery under a common law strict liability claim. There are different legal paths to the insurance company vault.

A Vicious Dog and the Right to Say No Thanks

The dog groomer is an attractive gal who gives doggy cuts.  In comes a hells angel biker who brings in his rott named “Terror.”  There is no written contract between the parties waiving the veterinarian rule defense.  As the dog groomer trims “Terror,” it bites the groomer in the face.

Does the veterinarian rule apply? Perhaps, if the dog groomer sues under the California Dog Bite Statute, the dog owner may plead in his answer the vet rule as a defense.  If “Terror” never demonstrated any viciousness to put the dog groomer on notice that it may bite her and in fact “Terror” never demonstrated to its owner a trait for viciousness, then the vet rule defense may apply.

Here is another example. Let’s say the dog groomer is the hells angel biker, and the little old lady from Pasadena comes in with her mutt, “Snickers.”  As the dog groomer is trimming the mutt, it bites him in the face. Does the vet defense apply?

Perhaps it does not. But why doesn’t it?  If the little old lady from Pasadena has knowledge that “Snickers” is vicious and this fact is not disclosed to the dog groomer, then the groomer is not in a position to decline taking the risk of being bit.

If representing the dog bite victim, to properly analyze these types of dogbite cases you need to carefully read all the reported cases on the veterinarian rule and properly plead all the different theories of recovery and conduct a proper factual investigation. Certain defenses only apply to certain theories of recovery and there are different ultimate facts required for each theory of recovery as there is for each affirmative defense.

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