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Dog Bites under Tennessee Law

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 4.5 million dog bites occur every year. Over half of these dog bites occur in homes. What is more, adults in homes with two or more dogs are five times more likely to be bitten than those living without dogs. Dog bites can have serious injuries from severe nerve damage to long-lasting emotional trauma. These dog-bite-related injuries can also lead to significant medical costs. In fact, dog-bite-related injuries are the highest for children from the ages from five to nine, and these children are more likely to require medical attention than adults.

Tennessee Dog Bite Statute

If you or a loved one is injured by another person’s dog in Tennessee then you may be able to file a legal claim to recover compensation for your injuries. Prior to 2007, Tennessee was known as a

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one-bite rule state. Under this rule, a dog owner could not been held liable if the dog had never attacked anyone before. If, however, the dog had already bit someone in the past then the dog’s owner could be liable for subsequent bites. The dog’s owner is said to get one free bite before legally liability will attach, hence the term one-bite rule.

In 2007, however, the Tennessee legislature abolished the one-bite rule after a woman was killed by several dogs. In 2006, a 60-year-old woman named Dianna Acklen died after being attacked by dogs while out of her home. In response to the woman’s death, Tennessee abolished its one-bite rule and replaced it with a statute that imposes strict liability on dog owner’s in connection with injuries caused by their dogs.

Under the Dianna Acklen Act, dog owners in Tennessee have a duty to keep their dogs under reasonable control at all times and to keep that dog from running at large. The statute defines “running at large” to mean “a dog goes uncontrolled by the dog’s owner upon the premises of another without the consent of the owner of such premises, or other person authorized to give consent, or goes uncontrolled by the owner upon a highway, public road, street or any other place open to the public generally.” A person who breaches this duty is subject to civil liability for any damages suffered by the person injured by the dog. The dog’s owner means any person who regularly harbors, keeps or exercises control of the dog. It does not include someone who is temporarily harboring, keeping, or exercising control over the dog. This means that if a friend is walking a dog for the owner and the dog attacks a person, the friend cannot be held liable under the statute.

Notably, the dog owner may be held liable “regardless of whether the dog has shown any dangerous propensities or whether the dog’s owner knew or should have known of the dog’s dangerous propensities.” This is known as strict liability, which abolished the state’s previous one-bite rule. The statute, however, does contain a few notable exceptions for imposing civil liability on dog owners. In particular, liability will not be based upon the owner of the dog if:

  • the dog is a police or military dog, the injured occurred during the dog’s official duties, and the injured party was suspected of being involved in an act that prompted police services;
  • the injured person was trespassing upon the private, nonresidential property of the dog’s owner;
  • the injury occurred while the dog was protecting the dog’s owner or other innocent party from attack by the injured person or a dog owned by the injured person;
  • the injury occurred while the dog was securely confined in a kennel, crate or other enclosure; or
  • the injury occurred as a result of the injured person enticing, disturbing, alarming, harassing, or otherwise provoking the dog.

Therefore, even though the statute is known as strict liability, there are several important exceptions that limit the ability of the statute to impose liability on dog owners if their dogs attack and injury other people. In addition, strict liability does not apply if a dog causes damage to a person while the person is on residential farm, or other noncommercial property. In these cases, the person injured is required to establish that the dog’s owner knew or should have known of the dog’s dangerous propensities.

Damages and Statute of Limitations

If a person suffers injuries from another person’s dog then the injured person may be entitled to recover damages similar to any personal injury claim. The injured person may be able to recover compensation for physical and emotional pain and suffering, past and future medical expenses, loss of wages, and loss of earning capacity. The extent of one’s damages will depend on the facts and circumstances of each case, namely the severity of the injury.

Importantly, for any person who suffers injury as a result of another person’s dog, there is a finite time within which a lawsuit must be filed. Dog bite claims are subject to the same statute of limitations as other personal injury claims, which is one year. If the injured person does not file a legal claim within one year from the date of the injury then the injured party will be precluded from suing the dog owner’s for civil liability. As such, any person injured by another person’s dog should act diligently to protect one’s rights under the law and contact a Tennessee Personal Injury Attorney.

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