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Dog Bites – Overview

When a dog bites a human being, the human victim can suffer significant injuries. He or she could even suffer permanent disabilities, such as nerve damage, in the affected area. When an individual suffers because of a dog bite, he or she may file a dog bites claim to recover compensation for his or her damages if the bite occurred in public or while lawfully on another party’s private property. When the dog is on its home property, its owner has the duty to keep the dog under a reasonable level of control. Failure to do so may be considered to be negligence.

Previously, Tennessee’s dog bite law had what was known as the “one bite rule.” This rule stated that a dog’s owner was not liable for damages caused by the dog’s bites unless the dog was known to have aggressive tendencies – basically, every dog had the chance for one free bite before its owner could be held liable for victims’ damages. This rule has been abolished. Currently, a dog’s owner is liable for any damages caused by the injuries the dog inflicts upon a victim except for in a few key circumstances.

When is a Dog’s Owner Not Liable for a Bite Victim’s Damages?

Under Tennessee law, there are multiple circumstances that can alleviate a dog owner’s liability for damages inflicted by the dog onto a human victim. These circumstances include the following:

  • If the victim provoked the dog into biting;
  • If the dog was a military or police dog carrying out official duties;
  • If the victim was trespassing when the bite occurred;
  • If the dog acted to protect its owner or another innocent party; and
  • If the dog was secured in a crate or enclosure when the bite occurred.

What if the Victim is a Minor?

A significant portion of dog bite victims are children, especially young children. When a very young child is bitten by a dog, it can be difficult to make a case that the child knowingly provoked the dog into biting. If your child is bitten by a dog, his or her age could potentially prevent him or her from being held responsible for provoking the bite.

Residential Exclusion

Tennessee has a clause in its dog bite law known as the residential exclusion. This states that victims of dog bites that occur on the dog’s owner’s property are not covered by the owner’s insurance, and thus unable to recover their damages through dog bites claims, unless they can prove that the dog’s owner was somehow negligent and that this negligence caused their injuries.

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