Obama “First Dog” Bites Visitor In White House

13508869_1225253070879655_7578993382388982682_nFinally, a case that joins my two legal loves: constitutional law and torts. This week, the White House was the scene of one of the most common torts in the country after the first dog, Sunny, bit a tourist in the White House. The female Portuguese Water Dog left a serious gash under the eye of the 18-year-old visitor.


0112-obama-dog-bite-victim-6The woman posted a picture of the nasty cut and the story ran on the site TMZ. She will reportedly have a small scar as a result of the incident.

Notably, this is not the first dog bite tort in recent history. The Bush First Dog attacked as journalist.

It is often said the every dog get one free bite in American torts. However, the “one free bite rule” is a commonly misunderstood torts doctrine — suggesting that you are not subject to strict liability until after the first time your dog bites someone. In fact, you are subject to strict liability whenever you know or have reason to know of the vicious propensity of your animal. That can be satisfied by conduct such as frequent snapping or aggressive behavior. Indeed, that was the evidence used in the famous case from San Francisco involving lawyers and dog owners Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel. They were found both criminally and civilly liable after their two Presa Canario dogs killed apartment neighbor Diane Whipple. Various neighbors complained about the dogs, which the couple inherited from a convict. Paul “Cornfed” Schneider is a reputed member of the Aryan Brotherhood and was planning a guard-dog business to be called “Dog-O-War.” Three days after Whipple’s death, the couple adopted Schneider as their son. The dogs had not bitten anyone but were known to be aggressive.

Sunny does not sound like a dog with a vicious past though such information does not ordinarily fully come to light before discovery. If Sunny is not found to have a vicious disposition that was known or should have been known to the Obamas, a negligence standard would apply. The question would be whether it was unreasonable to allow the dog to have such contact with tourists or visitors.  Most businesses and government buildings do not allow dogs to roam or discourage petting of service animals.  Dogs can be unpredictable and a jury could find, in consideration of all of the surrounding facts, that Sunny should have been kept under closer control. Notably, the United States government would be the leading defendant (and the Justice Department would be defense counsel) in such an action since this is federal property, though the Obamas would be named as co-defendants.

Even though DC recently did away with contributory negligence for cyclists and drivers, it has long been one of the few contributory negligence states that bar recovery when the plaintiffs is also at fault — even to a much lesser degree. It is not clear if the young woman could be alleged to have been a contributing cause to her own injury.

The young woman however does not appear inclined to sue. In D.C. she would have three years under D.C. Code Ann. § 12-301.

p030310ck-0372_1A congressional investigation of course would be exciting to watch, particularly if Bo was “flipped” and  given immunity to bark against Sunny.  It would be the canine version of the Valachi hearings as Bo recounted prior incidents showing a vicious propensity.  Whether Bo would break Mutt Omertà is hard to gauge but it might be worth a subpoena.

55 thoughts on “Obama “First Dog” Bites Visitor In White House

  1. My mother had a water dog. They are gentle loving animals, but extremely protective. Chrissy would have killed to protect us. My BFF was visiting one Christmas. Her two daughters, maybe 7 and 10 at the time, were playing up under the Christmas Tree. Chrissy was under the tree with them. There was someone in the house she did not know. She pushed the little girls under the tree, knocking it over, on top of them – protecting them. I can see a water dog doing what the Obama dog did, if she thought there was a treat to someone she cared about.

  2. Never, ever, no, no. never get your face directly in front of a dog. It is a challenge and usually results in a nip if not worse. Only the “owner” may do so and even then be careful.

    Obviously with the location of the bite on the adult, her face was “right there.”

    Never cuddle a dog’s head and speak cute things unless you want something to remind you of the cute dog everytime you look in the mirror.

    • Obviously with the location of the bite on the adult, her face was “right there.” ,,,,,, Yep … the ‘gash’ does not loot like a bite from a dog this size. It looks more like a single tooth. Sudden move????

      But I agree, the person’s face was “right there”

  3. It’s not a particularly dangerous breed. In fact, it’s described as affectionate and adventuresome. Individual propensities aside, it doesn’t sound like the best case out there.

  4. Visitor to the White House? To pass judge on a bite without knowing more information is ludicrous. Who was she visiting and how did she come close enough to the dog to be bit in the face? This is not the type of bit delivered by an attacking dog or a dog defending itself. More important, why is the person making this a story (having her picture taken)?

    Most dog bites are received by ignorant/arrogant people who instigated the bite either intentionally or unintentionally.

    • That’s not true about only ignorant/arrogant people getting bit. I’ve had lots of cases of dogs biting folks who were simply walking down the street with their own dog or another pet. Usually the culprit is too cheap owners failing to get proper training for the dog.

      • Mespo……….. I was addressing the situation cited – a visitor to the White House.

        I am sorry I was not more precise for you. I should have specified a person visiting where there is a family dog……………. as in this case. Bites are rarely the fault of a normal dog. If the dog has behavior problems, then the owner should not have him out when visitors are around. If the dog is normal (meaning not ill and of good behavior), then the bite is most likely to be caused by behavior of the visitor (and/or the owner) and the warning signs ignored.

        As to the cases you cite: walking down the street and being attacked by loose dogs. The owner was, most likely, irresponsible. I doubt the cause was being too cheap. It was far more likely the owners are either ignorant or oblivious. Personally, I do not walk my dogs on streets where I do not know if dogs are running loose. Now, I have had incidents in my neighborhood where dogs have gotten out. I use my “I MEAN BUSINESS” voice with a “NO”. In all cases, the dogs have stopped. I have also planned for what I would do if I am attacked.

        A dog walker should know what they will do if attacked by a loose dog. Shoot, a walker should know that.

      • I agree. What we do not know is the relationship of this person to the family and why they were so close to the dog. This looks like a young girl. Perhaps a friend of one of the girls who was visiting? I still say that is not the bite of an attacking dog. They would go for something they could “sink their teeth into”. Jumping and hoping to bite the face is a hit/miss thing. Was she standing? or was she stooped talking to the dog? Did the dog actually mean to bite or was it going to lick her face and she moved and tooth came in contact with face? Too many options and too little information. We can’t see much but it does not look like the wound of a bite from a dog of this size.

        Such reports do harm and fan the flames or misinformation.

  5. Florida is a strict liability state by statute. Whether the victim is in a public place or on the premises of the dog owner by invitation, the owner is liable for any injuries regardless of the dog’s propensities to bite or the owner’s knowledge of them.

  6. All I’ve been able to find out is that the girl went to kiss Sunny and got bitten. I wonder if Sunny thought the girl was being aggressive.

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