Dog bite cases typically involve specific laws that define the owner’s liability for injuries related to a dog bite or attack. The Court of Appeals discussed Tennessee’s dog bite statute in an October 19, 2017 opinion. The plaintiffs in the case filed a personal injury action against the owners of an Australian shepherd, which had bitten their son in the face during a visit to the owners’ home. The case reached the appeals court after the trial court entered summary judgment in favor of the defendants.
Under common law, an owner is liable for injuries inflicted by their animal if they know that the animal is accustomed or disposed to injuring people, even if it has never bitten anyone before. In 2007, the Tennessee General Assembly enacted the dog bite statute, which provides that a dog owner is held strictly liable if the dog injures someone because the owner failed to exercise reasonable control over the dog or the dog is running at large, regardless of viciousness. There is an exception, however, if the dog injures a person while that person is on the owner’s property. In such cases, the plaintiff must prove that the owner knew or should have known of the dog’s dangerous propensities to recover damages for the injury.
The plaintiffs brought a claim based on strict liability under Tennessee’s dog bite statute, as well as a claim under common law negligence. On appeal, the court held that the statute overrides a common law claim arising out of dog bites while on the owner’s property. Accordingly, the plaintiffs could only pursue the statutory claim, which required proof that the defendants knew of the dog’s dangerous propensities.
After reviewing the evidence of record, the appeals court concluded that the facts indicated that the defendants did not know, nor should they have known, that the dog had dangerous propensities. The court noted that while the child was petting the dog, the dog gave no indication that she was uncomfortable with the contact or otherwise showed aggression to the child, that the dog bit the child without warning, and that the dog had never bitten anyone before. The only evidence presented by the plaintiffs was that the defendants had notice that their dog might jump on and scratch people with her nails. The court found that the evidence was insufficient to show that the defendants were on notice, constructive or actual, that their dog would bite the child. As a result, the appeals court affirmed the summary judgment, ruling that the plaintiffs did not meet their burden of providing evidence that the defendants knew of the dog’s vicious propensities.
You may have legal recourse against a negligent owner if you have been bitten or attacked by their pet. At Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard, our Nashville personal injury lawyers can explain your options and represent you in a civil negligence claim. We handle premises liability cases, medical malpractice claims, wrongful death actions, and any other litigation arising out of injuries. Contact Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard by phone at (615) 800-7096 or online to schedule a free consultation with an experienced attorney.