Americans are unique among the countries of the world in our love for domestic animals. Unlike most countries where animals are only kept if they serve a practical purpose, in the U.S. animals, particularly dogs and cats, are frequently treated as part of the family. That acceptance of animals as part of the family often makes it even more terrifying when a dog attacks. For an adult, a dog bite injury can cause both physical and emotional trauma for some time after the attack; however, when a child is injured by a dog attack the psychological damage can last an entire lifetime. If your child has suffered injuries in a dog attack you may be entitled to compensation for the physical and emotional damage the attack caused. Clearly, no amount of monetary compensation is worth watching your child suffer through the aftermath of an animal attack; however, you should also not be forced to cover the expenses of treating your child’s injuries if someone else is legally liable for the attack. An experienced Tennessee personal injury attorney can help ensure that you and your child are compensated for all your child’s dog bite injuries.
Intentional, Negligent, and Strict Liability Torts — a Brief Introduction
To understand how dog bite injuries are typically handled in the American judicial system it helps to have a basic understanding of the law of “torts.” Tort law addresses injuries to your person or property. The law recognizes three different types of torts, including:
- Intentional — as the name implies, an intentional tort in one in which the defendant’s conduct was intentional, or with “malice aforethought.” A common example of an intentional tort is assault. While assault can be a criminal offense, it can also form the basis of a personal injury lawsuit for the intentional tort of assault. For example, if you are a waitress at a nightclub and a bar fight breaks out that results in you being hit and injured, you might have the basis for a civil lawsuit against the person who hit you based on assault.
- Negligent — negligence is the most common basis for personal injury lawsuits. Negligence requires a victim to prove four elements — a duty of care, a breach of the duty of care, causation, and damages. An example can be found using a car accident. It has long been established that a motorist operating a vehicle on a public roadway owes a duty of care to others on the roadway. If the motorist is drinking and driving, driving drowsy, texting, or doing something else that qualifies as a breach of that duty and a collision ensues, the motorist may be responsible for injuries that occur as a result.
- Strict liability — strict liability torts are the least common because they do not take the defendant’s state of mind into account. With a strict liability tort, the law only looks at the fact that a victim was injured, holding the defendant liable for damages if so. Dog bites are one of the most common types of strict liability torts because some states hold an owner responsible for injuries that occur as a result of a dog bite without regard to whether or not the owner did anything to try and prevent the attack.
Tennessee’s Dog Bite Law
The State of Tennessee imposes strict liability on a dog owner under certain conditions. Tennessee Code Annotated Section 44-8-413 imposes a duty on an owner to “keep that dog under reasonable control at all times, and to keep that dog from running at large.” If an owner breaches that duty the owner is responsible for “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.” Moreover, Tennessee’s dog bite law imposes liability “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.”
There are, however, a number of exceptions to Tennessee’s strict liability dog bite law. Specifically, an owner can escape liability under the following circumstances:
- The dog is a police or military dog, the injury occurred during the course of the dog’s official duties and the person injured was a party to, a participant in or suspected of being a party to or participant in the act or conduct that prompted the police or military to utilize the services of the dog;
- 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;
- The injury occurred as a result of the injured person enticing, disturbing, alarming, harassing, or otherwise provoking the dog.
In addition, the law provides a caveat for dog bites that occur while on private property, stating as follows:
“If a dog causes damage to a person while the person is on residential, farm or other noncommercial property, and the dog’s owner is the owner of the property, or is on the property by permission of the owner or as a lawful tenant or lessee, in any civil action based upon such damages brought against the owner of the dog, the claimant shall be required to establish that the dog’s owner knew or should have known of the dog’s dangerous propensities.”
How Can a Tennessee Personal Injury Attorney Help?
If your child has been injured in a dog attack you may be entitled to both economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages are intended to cover out of pocket expenses, such as medical bills, counseling expenses, and property damage. Non-economic damages represent the emotional trauma the dog bite caused to the victim. An experienced Tennessee personal injury attorney can evaluate the circumstances under which your child was injured and advise you of your legal options. If you are entitled to compensation, a personal injury attorney can help ensure that you are fully and fairly compensated for all injuries your child suffered.
If your child was injured in a dog attack in the State of Tennessee, it is in your best interest to consult with the experienced Tennessee personal injury attorneys at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.