President Biden’s German Shepherd, Commander, has been involved in 11 biting incidents this year, raising questions about who is liable and the potential legal consequences for the president.
The Law and the Large Question
Concerning Commander’s biting incidents, U.S. law holds dog owners responsible for bites, and some states even mandate euthanasia for repeat offenders.
However, the unique circumstances surrounding the dogs’ ownership and connection to the United States president raise intriguing legal questions: Can the President be sued? Should Commander be euthanized?
Rules for Ordinary Citizens
According to legal experts, if Joe and Jill Biden were ordinary citizens, their homeowner’s insurance policy would usually handle the situation by assigning an adjuster and hiring a lawyer to defend them in a lawsuit.
However, because the Biden’s are the President and First Lady, the Westfall Act, a federal law, grants them immunity from personal liability for actions that occur during their employment as federal employees.
To claim this immunity, the President must meet two criteria: Firstly, he must prove that he is a government official covered under the Westfall Act.
Secondly, he must demonstrate that the lawsuit is based on conduct within the scope of his employment.
A Presidential Responsibility
Recent court decisions have determined that the president qualifies as a federal employee under the act.
As for the second criterion, owning a dog might be considered part of the president’s official responsibilities since presidential dogs have historically played a role in humanizing the president’s image and even engaging in official functions.
Bringing in the FTCA
Determining whether the president can be sued for Commander’s biting incidents hinges on whether owning Commander falls within the president’s official responsibilities.
If it does, the United States would be substituted as the defendant, governed by the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), which permits lawsuits against the government.
However, due to the government’s sovereign immunity, the FTCA poses significant obstacles to such lawsuits.
Dog Biting Precedence
Precedence exists for suing the United States for bites caused by government dogs, such as an incident involving a tourist bitten by a military dog named Rosso at a Secret Service checkpoint during President Trump’s tenure.
Although the tourist sued under the FTCA, she lost her case due to the act’s restrictions.
A Different Kind of Case
The FTCA’s impact on dog bite cases is significant. Dog bite cases are typically easy to win, especially in jurisdictions where owners are automatically held liable.
However, cases against the United States are more challenging to win due to the FTCA.
The Power of the FTCA
For instance, a parent’s lawsuit against the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for negligently training a dog that bit their child was barred by the FTCA, which deemed dog training a “discretionary function.”
11 Bites and No Consequences
In Washington D.C., where the biting incidents took place, the owner of a civilian dog is liable even if their dog has never bitten anyone before.
However, the situation appears different for Commander, whose 11th bite seems to have no legal consequences against the President or the United States.
The Mayor’s Power
Furthermore, the D.C. Mayor can investigate and determine whether a dog is dangerous. If deemed a threat to public safety, the Mayor has the power to euthanize the dog.
A Potential Standoff
In Commander’s case, Mayor Muriel Bowser could play the judge, jury, and executioner role. It remains to be seen if an investigation will be initiated and if Commander will face the “Capitol” punishment.
Should this occur, a standoff between the D.C. Police and Commander’s Secret Service detail might emerge.
In response to this strange case, many people feel the dog’s misbehavior comes as a consequence of an owner who has neglected their responsibility, regardless of whether he is the president of the United States or not.
A Case of Confusion
One social media user claimed the President has seemed “confused” and, “The dog senses the confusion and reacts like any normal canine would.
The answer is to remove this dog and all dogs from the custody of a nasty, confused, doddering old man.
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