Tennessee’s Complex Law on Dog Bite Liability Attorney

If you or a family member is the victim of a dog bite, you may assume that the owner of the dog can be made to cover your medical bills and other damages. In Tennessee, that assumption is correct in some but unfortunately not all circumstances. Our state has one of the most complex dog bite laws in the country.

Tennessee’s current dog bite law, called the Dianna Acklen Act, was named for a 60-year-old woman who was killed by three dogs while out for a walk in her residential neighborhood. The act makes a dog owner strictly liable for injuries or death inflicted by a dog if one or both of the following are true:

  • The owner failed to keep the dog under reasonable control
  • The dog was running at large

Strict liability means that if one or both of these conditions exist, the dog’s owner can be held responsible even if he or she had no knowledge of the dog’s prior aggressive behavior or tendency to bite. In such cases, the owner can be liable even if the dog had never bitten anyone before.

However, there is a large loophole that can allow an owner to escape strict liability. If the bite occurs on the owner’s property, then the victim must prove that the dog’s owner knew or should have known that the dog had vicious propensities. This is called the residential exclusion. More than 50 percent of dog bites occur on property owned by the dog’s owner, which means more than half of people bitten by dogs are at risk of not getting compensation. Because of the residential exclusion, an invited guest who is bitten in the owner’s home cannot automatically get compensation from the owner’s insurance, but a stranger attacked in the street by the same dog is fully covered.

Proving that the owner knew or should have known of their dog’s dangerous propensities can only be done by producing evidence that the dog had bitten someone before or that the dog had a history of other vicious or aggressive behavior. To do this, it may be necessary to find witnesses, such as neighbors, who can testify about being chased by the dog or about seeing other aggressive behavior.

You should consult with a qualified dog bite lawyer before accepting any insurance settlement or allowing yourself to be convinced that you are not entitled to any compensation.

The attorneys of Massengill, Caldwell & Coughlin, PC advocate for victims of animal attacks in the Tri-Cities region of Bristol, Kingsport and Johnson City. Please call our office at 423-797-6022 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation where our lawyers can explain your legal options.