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 gets 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. No matter the cause, she needs to get antibiotics because such a puncture wound can close with bacteria still inside.

    I hope it was an accident.

  2. What happened? How did there only get one gash? It seems like it would have had to have been a glancing blow from a fang. What was going on at the time of the bite? Was he jumping and he accidentally knocked into her face? They can be hyper and mouthy, but are not known to be aggressive. They are nowhere near a Presa Canario or Cane Corso.

    Was this a deliberate bite or just an accident? Was she holding a ball by her face? Did she bend down right when Sunny jumped up? Does anyone have more information on how this transpired? Was there any history of nipping?

    1. Olly – I did not know the Canadians had a Water Dog. Thanks for the info. 😉

  3. If the girl got in the dog’s face, it’s the dog’s normal reaction to protect itself. Even if the dog was on a leash with a handler, if the girl acted quickly, this could be the result.

  4. The dog is obviously a racist and perhaps a misogynist as well. Clearly a Trump supporter. This should be charged as a hate crime.

  5. The last comment of mine articulates the defense one posits in a dog bite case. This is the first thing the lawyer for the dog owner says on closing argument.

  6. 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.

    Knoller and Noel were two very strange people whose conduct toward their neighbors was certainly criminal in the metaphorical sense (though the murder prosecution of Knoller was a bid for an inversion of jury nullification). Cannot see how it’s prudent to use that case as precedent for anything else. It was just too damned odd.

    1. From what I could tell from the news reports of the trial, each person in the couple was equally culpable. I think it is an excellent case for the highest bar, killer dogs and those who cannot control them.

  7. It’s the fault of the Russians. They have been beaming microwaves into the white house to hack into Michelle’s email.

    1. Michael – what do you think is in Michelle’s emails that the Russians could want? Enquiring minds want to know? 😉

  8. I suppose being the last 2weeks the 1st family have been doing a lot more ‘mingling’ with the tourist?
    But what I find really surprising with the hundreds of staff, the dog didn’t have its own personal caretaker.
    The dog is lucky. Normal people will not sue.
    And the sheriff will not be coming, like in the case of the average Joe blow’s house, threating Bo’s life.

      1. The government usually waives Sovereign Immunity via the Federal Tort Claims Act, no ?

          1. I’m using my Samsung S5 and typing on a small keyboard with one figure, so I suspect maybe I’m just typing like a klutz and not noticing it before hitging ‘posg.”

            1. bruce – I could never do it on my phone. However, you can get little pointers for your phone that are smaller than your finger, which is what I do. Staples carry them. They usually come in packs of two, so when I misplace one for awhile, I have the other one. When I misplace that one then I really need to clean my desk an find both of them again. 🙂

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  9. In this instance, the Obama under tort law and the White House, presumably under the Federal Tort Claims Act, have become aware of the existance if a tort cause of action on behalf of an injured young lady was was a guest or invitee. Her mere presence is clearly not indicative of a contributory negligence defense and the White House should contact the young lady and make a reasonable of her, or her counsel, should she elect to get counsel. It is completely irrelivant that she has indicated that she has no present interest in pursuing ‘a law suit.’

    Facial scaring for a young lady is far more significant than an equivalent scar on a male and worth far more in damages.

  10. What were the circumstances of the bite? Did she provoke, startle, or tease the dog in any fashion? Were they playing, and the dog nipped her in the process? Because that happens a lot when you play with animals. I have like 9 blood spots on my arm right now, where the jumped up on me so I would cuddle them, and give them their bottle. Sometimes stuff like that just happens. I need more info on this incident.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  11. Homeowners insurance covers dog bites. I doubt the Prez has homeowners insurance but I would think they would have a policy for their personal belongings. I worked a good number of dob bite cases, hired by attorneys and insurance companies defending dog owners. The cases that were most often filed involved face bites like this one. Although folks think pit bulls, mastiffs, etc. when they think of dog bites, cocker spaniels can be some of the worst biters and they go right for the face. I know nothing about this breed.

    Many times an insurance company will deny coverage based on the breed. Insurance companies routinely do not cover certain breeds and automatically exclude coverage for dogs banned in a municipality. Problems arise w/ mutts in determining coverage.

  12. Charge the victiim with voting against Hillary and give the dog a Presidential pardon. Why break an eight year old trend. At this date does it really matter. Hmmmmm….Can the victim file suit against the owner AFTER the 20th? I know Presidential pardons are banned for use by Presidents for themselves….

  13. If there was to be a lawsuit could she avoid any immunity challenge by suing Mrs. Obama?

    1. The government usually waives Sovereign Immunity via the Federal Tort Claims Act, no ?

      1. We could impound the First Mutt and check it for rabies. That would take at least a month.

  14. There is not enough information. However, there is no excuse for letting a dog get that close to someone’s face. Of course there must be a lot of discordant vibes in and around Washington these days.

      1. I blame both Bushes and Trump. Stricter leash laws in the WH would have solved this problem.

        1. I blame Obama for not keeping Moocher on her own leash, nor himself. Dogs just just imitate their owners. Can you imagine Moocher taking a bite out of Obama’s head? That would be a nice visual.

          1. Elisi Newell – people think a lot of dogs are friendlier than they really are. However, the First Mutt was trained (I think at our expense). The Obama’s may keep renters insurance to cover damages to the WH by the dogs, kids and themselves. We know the Clintons would have given them that advice.

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