If you have been bitten by a dog in Tennessee, you most likely have a legal claim against the owner. However, the state has a complex dog bite statute that imposes different responsibilities on dog owners in different circumstances. You will need to understand how the law is applied and examine the specifics of your case to determine whether your legal claim has a good chance of success.
Does a Dog Owner Have Strict Liability or “One Bite” Liability?
Tennessee dog bite laws have two different forms of liability, depending on where the injury took place. If a dog causes injury to a victim (or damage to his or her property) and the victim was in a public place, the dog's owner will be held strictly liable—meaning it does not matter if the owner knew the dog was aggressive or had a history of causing injury. Strict liability may also apply in cases where the victim was lawfully on a third party's private property.
The other form of liability, commonly called "one bite" liability, applies to attacks that take place at the dog owner’s residence. Tennessee has a unique exemption for injuries dogs cause to people who are at the dog owner’s private residential home or farm. This also applies to a non-commercial property that is lawfully owned, leased, or rented by the dog owner or is occupied with the owner's permission. In these situations, the injured person has the burden of proving that the dog's owner knew, or reasonably should have known, that the dog was dangerous or was likely to act aggressively in order to hold the owner liable for damages.
Defenses Used by Dog Owners in Bite Injury Cases
No matter which type of liability applies in your case, dog owners have certain legal defenses that could excuse the dog’s behavior. If successful, these defenses could exempt them from responsibility and absolve them from paying for a victim’s medical treatments, lost income, emotional suffering, and other damages in a dog bite case.
There are a number of defenses available to dog owners who have been named in an injury lawsuit, including:
- Trespassing. A victim who was bitten while trespassing on the private, non-residential property of the dog's owner generally does not have a right to injury compensation.
- Defensive behavior. If a victim was bitten while he or she was committing a crime, the owner will generally not be held liable for the victim’s injuries. In addition, an owner is not liable if the injury occurred while the dog was protecting its owner (or another innocent party) from attack by the injured person or a dog owned by the injured person.
- Confinement. If the injured party was bitten by a dog that was securely confined in a kennel, cage, crate, or other enclosure, the owner is likely not liable since the victim could have avoided injury by keeping a safe distance.
- Provocation. Dog owners are not responsible for injuries their dogs cause if the victim was harassing, taunting, enticing, alarming, or otherwise provoking the dog prior to injury.
- Police or military animals. Tennessee law exempts all police and rescue dogs from liability if the dog was performing its official duties at the time of the injury. However, this generally applies to suspects whose conduct prompts the use of a police dog’s services rather than to bystanders.
- Lack of knowledge. Technically, the lack of knowledge of any aggressive behavior is a defense, but it can only be used if the “one bite” statute applies. However, your attorney may be able to refute this defense if there are records or other proof of prior injuries.
If you or your child sustained a dog bite injury, you should speak with an attorney immediately. Our injury lawyers can advise you on your next steps at no cost to you, and we do not collect any payment from you until we secure a recovery. Simply fill out the short contact form on this page to set up a free initial consultation.