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When and Where Can You Recover for Tennessee Dog Bite Injuries?

More than 800,000 dog bites occur each year nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you are attacked by another person’s aggressive dog through no fault of your own, you may reasonably think you can you recover damages for your injuries. However, in Tennessee the law is somewhat complicated. A dog owner’s liability depends on multiple factors — most importantly where the attack occurs.

Tennessee follows a modified form of the “one-bite rule,” which used to mean that a dog owner was liable only if he or she had knowledge of the animal’s dangerous propensities. This gave the dog one free bite before legal responsibility kicked in.

Under the state’s Dog Bite Statute, that rule now applies only if a dog bites you while it is on its owner’s residential, farming or other non-commercial property. You cannot recover damages unless you prove that the owner knew or should have known that the dog was dangerous.

On the other hand, Tennessee imposes strict liability on a dog owner who fails to keep it under reasonable control or who lets it run wild outside of his or her property. In these circumstances, you may recover damages if you suffer injury from a bite, regardless of the dog’s history of attacks or the owner’s level of knowledge.

The statute makes exceptions in certain circumstances. You generally cannot recover damages if:

  • The dog was a police or military dog on duty and you were a participant or suspected participant in activity that prompted the use of the dog.
  • The dog was defending its owner or an innocent person from you or your dog.
  • The dog was securely confined in a kennel, crate or other enclosure.
  • You disturbed or provoked the dog.

Once the dog owner’s liability is established, you are entitled to a full array of damages for injuries resulting from a bite. They include:

  • Any medical bills you incurred or expect to incur for treatment
  • Any income and earning capacity you lost or will lose as a result of the injury
  • Any resulting scarring, disfigurement or disabilities you suffered or will continue to suffer
  • Any physical pain and mental suffering related to the injury
  • Any resulting loss of ability to enjoy the normal pleasures of life
  • Any loss of companionship and services your spouse would expect to receive from you if not for the injury

Homeowners’ insurance policies generally cover liability for injuries caused by dog bites, though some policies exclude coverage for dangerous breeds.

If you are injured in an attack by a dog or other animal, your first step, after necessary medical treatment, should be to try to ascertain who the owner is. You should then seek advice from an attorney skilled in dog bite cases. At Massengill, Caldwell & Coughlin, P.C., we understand Tennessee’s dog bite laws and will work hard to achieve the best possible outcome in your case. We have served the Tri-Cities area of Bristol, Kingsport and Johnson City since 1909. For a free consultation, call us today at 423-797-6022 or contact us online.

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  • Bristol Office
    777 Anderson Street
    Bristol, Tennessee 37620
    Phone: 423-797-6022
    Fax: 423-764-1179
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