When I was a kid, my three-legged dog Jerry bit a neighbor. I remember the insurance adjuster – one of the few people I’d ever seen with a suit on in my town of 60 people – came out and started asking our neighbors if Jerry had ever bitten anyone else. Turns out the adjuster was applying the “one-bite” rule.

This is a rule in civil and criminal cases in many states that provides that an animal owned by a person gets one free bite of a person before there is liability. More precisely, the “one-bite” rule is that the owner of an animal is not civilly or criminal liable for the injury his or her animal causes if the owner had never known the animal to bite someone – thereby showing that the owner was not on notice of the dangerousness of the animal. In general, an owner is strictly liable – that is, liable regardless of fault – for the injury his or her animal causes if he or she knows the animal is dangerous, as evidenced by the animal having bitten someone in the past.

But, once again, Montana has a different rule than most states. In Montana, there is no “one-bite” rule – instead, the owner is strictly liable even if the dog has never previously bitten anyone – if … this is kind of weird … the dog is within the city or town limits. The statute for those who don’t believe me is MCA 27-1-715. So if you’re out of the city or town limits in the county, the “one-bite” rule presumably applies; if you’re inside city or town limits, it’s the “zero-bite” rule. It is unclear why dogs get a free bite in the county but not in a city or town. The legislature does strange things.

By the way, the neighbors said they’d never seen Jerry bite anyone. So we didn’t get sued. (We were in the county.)

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