Mississippi has no state-wide dog bite statute. Instead, dog bite law is governed by state common law (judge-made law) and local ordinances. If you are bitten by a dog in Mississippi, your lawsuit must generally proceed in one of two ways – the “one free bite rule” or common law negligence.
Poy v. Gayson and the “One Free Bite Rule”
In the 1973 dog bite case Poy v. Gayson, the Mississippi Supreme Court noted that in order for a dog owner or keeper to be held liable for a dog bite, (i) the dog must have exhibited some “dangerous propensity or disposition” in the past and (ii) it must be proven that the owner or keeper “knew or reasonably should have foreseen” that the dog was likely to bite someone. Strictly speaking, this principle doesn’t mean that the dog gets “one free bite” – it only means that the dog must have behaved in such a manner as to indicate that it is would likely bite someone at some point.
Common Law Negligence
If the dog has never exhibited any dangerous tendencies (or if you are simply unable to prove that it has), or if the defendant is not the owner or keeper of the dog, you might still be able to prevail in a lawsuit based on common law negligence. If, for example, a school official left a gate open to allow a stray dog into a children’s playground, and the dog injured one of the children, you might argue that the school official was negligent in leaving the gate open.
Another way you can prove negligence is to rely on the negligence per se doctrine – violation of a local dog control ordinance is automatically considered negligence. Many Mississippi cities and counties have passed dog control ordinances that, for example, prohibit an owner from allowing a dog to roam freely. If you are bitten by a free-roaming dog that is owned by someone else, the dog owner cannot defend against a lawsuit by proving that the dog had never before exhibited dangerous tendencies.
Local Breed-Specific Bans
Many Mississippi localities restrict or even completely ban pit bulls. Some of these also ban or restrict Rottweilers. Violation of one of these ordinances can support a negligence per se theory of liability.
The Mississippi Statute of Limitations
In Mississippi, you generally have three years from the date of a dog bite to file a personal injury lawsuit. This doesn’t mean that your case has to be resolved in three years – it only means that you must have filed a complaint with the court within three years. If you miss the deadline, the court will probably dismiss your case without you being able to present any evidence or appear at a single hearing.
If you are negotiating an out-of-court settlement, don’t let the opposing party (usually an insurance company) lull you into missing the deadline with endless delays – even a settlement agreement must be signed by both sides by the deadline.
Don’t delay. Contact a Mississippi dog bite lawyer today and get started on your road to recovery.