- posted: Aug. 30, 2022
- Personal Injury
In Tennessee, a dog owner has an obligation to keep their dog under reasonable control and to keep it from running loose. If a dog that is not properly restrained attacks another person, the owner is, with certain exceptions, strictly liable to pay damages for the victim’s injuries, even if the dog has shown no dangerous propensities in the past. Strict liability means the victim does not have to prove the dog’s owner was negligent or otherwise at fault.
Tennessee used to adhere to the “one bite” or “dangerous propensities” rule, which meant a dog owner could be held liable to a bite victim only if the dog had in the past exhibited vicious behavior that the owner should have been aware of. The law was changed after a tragic 2006 incident in which a 60-year-old librarian was mauled to death by dogs running loose in her neighborhood. Under the current state statute, if a dog owner fails either to keep the dog under reasonable control or to prevent the dog from running at large, the owner will be strictly liable for any injuries suffered by a person attacked while in a public place or lawfully on private property.
The rule is subject to several exceptions, however. It does not apply if:
- The injury occurred while the dog was performing its official function as a military or police animal.
- The injured party was trespassing on the private, non-residential property of the dog owner.
- The dog causing injury was protecting its owner or another party from the aggression of the injured person or the injured person’s animal.
- The dog causing the injury was confined in an enclosure, like a crate or kennel.
- The injured party alarmed, enticed, disturbed, harassed, or provoked the dog in some way.
Another exception to strict liability is when the injured party is on residential, farming or other noncommercial property owned or leased by the dog owner at the time of the attack. Here, the “one bite” or “dangerous propensities” rule still applies. The injured party can recover damages only by proving that the dog owner knew or should have known that the dog was dangerous. In addition, the injured party cannot have been the aggressor or provoker.
The first step to take if you’ve been injured by a dog is to seek medical attention, either at a hospital emergency room or a trauma or first aid center. Once the injury has been treated, you should contact a personal injury attorney who has experience with dog bite cases in Tennessee. The attorney can advise you how state law applies to your circumstances and about how to preserve evidence of the attack and the resulting injury.
At Massengill, Caldwell & Coughlin, P.C., we have been representing injured parties in Tennessee for more than a century. We offer a free initial consultation to potential clients and can meet you at our office in Bristol or at your home or hospital room. Call us at 423-797-6022 or contact us online to schedule your initial consultation today.