The Biden German Shepherds have been sent back to Delaware after “Major” was involved in a “biting incident” with a White House security officer. Assuming the incident was a dog-bites-guard rather than a guard-bites-dog incident, the question is whether this is a “Major” liability concern. If nothing else, it allows me to talk about two of my favorite subjects: dogs and torts.
As many of you know, I am a dog fanatic and celebrated the return of dogs to the White House with Champ and Major. I could never abide the Trump White House sans dogs.
This is not the first such dog biting case. Most recently, the Obama’s dog, Sunny, bit a tourist and actually drew blood.
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.
Major was adopted in November 2018 from an animal shelter.
Accounts indicate that he has been displaying aggressive behavior including barking and charging at White House staff and security. That could negate any need for an actual bite since it could be alleged that Major’s vicious propensity was known or should have been known to the Bidens.
Still, the Obama incident was actually presented a greater liability issue since it involved a tourist. An employee could file for worker’s compensation but may have waiver issues on bringing a direct tort action. The security covers the personal family, including Major, though fortunately non-canine family members have not been known to bite staff.
Presumably, the Bidens will avoid the scandal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who accidentally left Fala behind while visiting the Aleutian Islands. He was accused by Republicans of sending a Navy destroyer, at a taxpayer expense of up to $20 million, to retrieve the dog. FDR went public to say that Fala “resented” the disparagement of his reputation. It appears that the Biden used conventional ground transportation to take the dogs to their Delaware Elba.
In the Obama story, I was most interested in possible congressional hearings where the other Obama dog might flip on Sunny to incriminate him. Since Champ, the older dog, was sent “up the river” with Major and could harbor some resentment. Yet, I expect Champ is likely to stick with his fellow German Shepherd. (A Bichon Frise would likely turn in a nanosecond). Besides they are both being whisked out of town before any congressional investigators show up with treats and subpoenas.