Tennessee is a strict liability state for some dog bites, but a one-bite state for others. Depending upon the surrounding circumstances, victim may be able to recover under statutory strict liability, negligence, “one bite rule” or common law scienter, a dog owner is liable for injuries if he was negligent, if the animals were wrongfully in the place where the attack occurred, or if the injuries were a result of known vicious or dangerous propensities.
Statutory Strict Liability
In 2007, Tennessee established strict liability for canine-inflicted injuries under specific circumstances. The statute creates a two-part duty: a dog must be under reasonable control and not running at large. The duty would be violated if the dog is not under reasonable control even if it is not running at large. For example, if a dog is running loose on the owner’s unfenced front lawn.
The statute establishes a number of exceptions to the strict liability rule:
- There is no liability for a dog that is doing police or military work or protecting someone from being attacked, or is securely confined in a kennel or something similar.
- There is no liability if the victim provoked the dog.
- A victim must prove scienter under the “residential exclusion” rule in order to hold a dog owner liable, or there is no liability.
Common Law Scienter or “One Bite Rule”
The “residential exclusion” means that there is no liability for an attack that occurs on residential, farm, or other non-commercial property rented or leased by the dog owner unless the victim proves scienter (latin for “knowingly”). To prove scienter, a victim would need to prove that the dog’s owner knew or should have known of the dog’s “dangerous propensities.” The basic key to recovery of damages for injuries caused by a dog is the knowledge of the dog owner that the animal is vicious and dangerous. This is the same as the “one bite rule” because if the dog had previously bitten someone, then the owner is on notice that it has dangerous propensities and would be held liable for any injuries following the first incident.
Tennessee is the only state in America that has a “residential exclusion” in its dog liability statute. This is problematic since 50% of dog bites occur on the dog-owner’s property and thus 50% of victims are left without compensation. Guests in a dog owner’s home are not covered if bitten, whereas a stranger on the street would be fully covered.
A victim may also recover damages if the dog owner was acting negligently and that negligence allowed the attack to occur. It is the victim’s burden to prove negligence, which can often be difficult to prove, especially if there were no witnesses to the attack. Under a negligence claim, a dog owner who is unreasonably careless in handling a dog may be legally responsible if someone is hurt as a result. If the dog owner did not act reasonably under the circumstances, then a negligence claim may be appropriate if the victim can support the claim.
If you or a loved one have been hurt, talk to a Tennessee dog bite lawyer.