Categorized | Opinion

DOG BITE LAW IN TENNESSEE

By David Peel
david-peelFor the longest time, the law in Tennessee was harsh on victims of dog bites because it rewarded ignorance and encouraged dishonesty while not compensating victims.  In Tennessee, prior to 2007, a dog owner was not legally liable (responsible) for any dog bite unless it could be proven, or was admitted, that the same dog had bitten before. Therefore, ignorance, and lying were encouraged. Also, imagine five dogs that look similar and only two attack. How does one prove the identity?
This became cynically called the “one free bite rule”.
But something changed all that. Actually someone. An elderly lady was actually mauled to death by a pack of three dogs in 2006. The outrage led to a change to the old Tennessee law. Under the new Tennessee law, a dog owner does not always get to hide behind the one free bite rule or be rewarded for his dishonesty or ignorance of his dogs’ history.
The only way to get around such a standard is to hold him liable for basically whatever his dogs do. Thus all that has to be proven in many cases is ownership.
In the law, this is called “strict liability.” Tennessee has always had strict liability for wild animals, such as a man keeping lions in his backyard. But this was entirely new as applied to dogs not known to attack previously.
Our Tennessee dog bite law now focuses on the owner and the location of the attack, rather than the dog’s history.
It requires the dog owner:
(a) to keep the dog under reasonable control, and;
(b) to keep the dog from running at large.
A dog owner who fails to do this is “subject to civil liability 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”.
Note that this new standard does not apply on the property where the dogs are usually kept. It really is dealing with dogs running loose, or a dog that bolts from its owner.  The exception for bites on the dog’s property is now known as the “residential exception.”  Under the new law, a bite on the residential, farm (or other non-commercial property) of the dog owner, then the victim again has to deal with the “first bite free” rule above, has to prove that the dog owner knew or should have known of the dog’s vicious history.  An exception also exists for dogs being harassed into attacking.
Fortunately, most dog bites are minor, but a vicious dog is capable of tremendous damage in a very short time, especially if attacking as a pack.
Peel seeks justice for those injured in motorcycle, truck and car accidents, disability and medical malpractice. He often addresses churches, clubs and groups without charge. Peel may be reached through PeelLawFirm.com wherein other articles may be accessed.

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