New dog bite laws in Tennessee After a vicious dog bite attack, you need answers to protect yourself and your family.  Tennessee previously allowed dog owners to have a “first bite free”, which required a victim to prove that the owner knew that the dog had a dangerous propensity to hurt someone, or had done it before.  This rule was unfair to the victims who had never had any reason to be around the dog before and therefore have no idea how vicious the dog might be.  Owners would often lie about their dog’s dangerous propensities.  This is no longer the law in Tennessee.


Tennessee’s newer law requires a dog owner to

1- Keep their dog under reasonable control and

2- keep the dog from running at large. 

If the dog owner violates either of these duties, he is “subject to civil liability for any damages suffered by a person who is injured by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in or on  the private property of another.”

Exceptions to the Rule

There are some huge exceptions to this rule, which include:

•    The Law does not apply to military or police dogs;
•    If you provoke the dog, you will not recover for the harm from the resulting attack;
•    If the attack occurs on the dog owner’s farm, home, driveway or other noncommercial property owned, rented or leased by the dog owner, or occupied by the dog owner with his permission, unless you prove that the owner knew or should have known of the dog’s dangerous propensities.
•    If the dog is confined in an enclosure and contained, the owner will not be liable for any injuries.  

There is also an important  “residential exception” which does not hold a dog owner liable to a person that is upon the residence or farm property of the dog owner, unless you can prove that the dog owner knew of the dog’s dangerous propensities.  This situation requires you to prove, as the prior rule of law required, that the owner knew his dog was vicious and prone to be aggressive and/or attack.   Tennessee is the only state in our nation that contains this residential exception.  Since well over half of the dog bite injuries occur on the premises of the owner, this is an important distinction.  

Be very careful if you are on the property of a dog owner of any dog you do not know.  Ask the owner if the dog has ever bitten anyone before.  Children are especially vulnerable to attack and oftentimes suffer the most horrific injuries from dog bites.  

Four Things You Need To Know If Bitten By A Dog In Tennessee:

  1. If you are bitten while in a public place and bitten by a dog running at large, the dog owner will generally be held responsible as long as you were not provoking the dog;
  2. If you are on the premises of the dog owner (i.e. home, farm, owner’s driveway, etc..) and get bitten, you will have the legal duty to prove that the owner knew the dog had “dangerous propensities.”  This means that the dog had a prior history of aggression or viciousness that has been witnessed by someone, or the owner has admitted to.  Owners rarely admit to these type of things, so you have to find out what the owner knows through their own friends and neighbors.  This is not always an easy task, especially for owners you do not know very well. 
  3. You need to have appropriate coverage for this type of scenario with your own homeowner’s insurance.  Call your agent and ask if you have the correct type of coverage that will cover you if someone else’s dog bites you and does not have any, or enough, insurance coverage;
  4. You only have one year (unless you are a minor) to file your claim.  After that, you are out of luck.  

Learn more about the Tennessee Dog Bite Statute

As a general rule, I don’t let my children go near dogs of certain breeds.  Period.   Many will say that is overkill, but heck, they are my kids, and I am responsible for their well being.  Seeing the types of calamity and horrific injuries that I regularly see, it usually involves 3 main breeds.  You can probably guess what they are.

If you or a loved one has ever been hurt in a dog bite case, contact our Nashville dog bite lawyers anytime at 615-807-7900. We will provide you with a free consultation and answer any questions you may have.  We advance all costs on cases we accept (this means no out-of-pocket costs for you), and we charge no fee if there is no recovery. Time is your enemy in cases like this. Witnesses’ memories fade… Evidence disappears.  If you or your child has been bitten, do not delay, call John today.

John Griffith
Connect with me
Nashville Personal Injury Trial Attorney