Veterinarians and Dog Groomers Assume The Risk of A Dog Bite When Treatment Begins Or When They Consent To Treatment
While California statute holds dog owners strictly liable when their dog bites another person, dog owners have a defense available when their dog bites a dog groomer, veterinarian, or kennel worker: assumption of the risk. Courts have reasoned that dog groomers, veterinarians, and kennel workers have knowingly assumed the natural risk of their profession that they may be bitten by a dog. While dogs may act docile while under the control of their owner in a familiar environment, it is common for these animals to become uncharacteristically aggressive when under the control of the professional in a foreign environment under the stresses of treatment. In that event, animal professionals are said to have knowingly assumed the risk of the common event that a dog might bite them in the course of treatment. Therefore, while dog owners are generally strictly liable by operation of California’s dog bite statute, dog owners are not similarly liable to veterinarians, dog groomers, and kennel workers since these professionals have assumed the risk of a dog bite as an inherent risk of their profession. However, dog owners can only enjoy this defense once these professionals actually assume that risk by beginning or agreeing to treatment. Assumption of the risk only applies where the professional has knowingly assumed the risk, and a professional only knowingly assumes that risk with a particular dog once treatment begins or once they agree to so treat the animal. For instance, a dog owner cannot bring in their vicious, snarling pit bull on a leash to a dog groomers office, unleash the dog which summarily savages the entire staff, and later claim that the dog groomers assumed the risk of being bitten by the dog. In that case, the dog groomers did not assume that risk as it applies to that dog because they did not agree to treat the dog. If they agreed to treat the dog and began grooming the snarling pit bull, then they have assumed the risk of being bitten. In conclusion, the defense that a dog groomer, veterinarian, or kennel worker has assumed the risk of being bitten by a dog begins once the professional has agreed or actually begun to treat or service the animal.