My dog bit someone. What should I do?
If your animal bites someone, you could be
sued in both civil and criminal court. The injured person can sue you for any
money they paid for their injuries. If you knew your dog was vicious or
dangerous, and you failed to keep it locked up, you might also be guilty of a
An animal owner is anyone who owns, keeps,
or cares for an animal. Animal owners are also people who let an animal stay on
If you knew that your animal was vicious or
dangerous, you have to pay for the injuries no matter what. The injured person
would not have to prove anything except that they were injured by your animal.
Law enforcement officers can enter your
land to get a dangerous or vicious dog or a dog that might be infected with
A dog is “vicious” when the state decides
it’s especially dangerous. A dog which has been trained for guard or police
duties is not vicious. Your dog is not vicious if one of the following is true:
- The injured person was doing
something to cause the dog to attack them;
- The injured person was
committing a crime against you or your property; or
- Your dog was responding to pain
or injury or was protecting itself, its offspring, you, or a member of your
If the state decides your dog is vicious,
it must be spayed or neutered within 10 days. You must pay a $100 public safety
fine, and keep the dog locked up at all times. The dog must be kept behind a
fence that is at least 6 feet tall. The only times a vicious dog can leave are:
- To go to the vet,
- If there is an emergency or
natural disaster that threatens the dog’s life, or
- To follow a court order.
When you take the dog out, you must put a
muzzle on it, and keep it on a leash no longer than 6 feet. You must keep it
under your control and supervision at all times.
If you let out a vicious dog, it will be
impounded. If a court issues an order to impound the dog, you must appeal the
order in circuit court within 15 working days. Once you file the notice of
appeal, animal control cannot euthanize the dog. But you must tell animal
control in writing that you’ve filed an appeal.
If you do not appeal within 15 days, the
dog may be euthanized. You may have to pay the animal control agency for the
time spent caring for your dog.
Here are the basics:
The law varies from jurisdiction to
There is no federal dangerous dog law.
States will have their own dangerous dog law. Some counties and cities also
have dangerous dog laws.
These laws will vary as to what behavior is
deemed dangerous. In some, one bite can lead to a dangerous dog determination;
in others, the dog must have bitten more than once. Similarly, some
jurisdictions may consider a dog dangerous if that dog has killed another
animal, in others not.
The procedures also vary between
If your dog is accused of an attack, he or
she may be seized and put on “bite hold” at a local shelter. You will then
generally be entitled to a hearing before your dog is declared dangerous. This
hearing may be before an administrative hearing officer or before a judge.
The party seeking to have your dog declared
dangerous — an animal control agency or an injured party — will present
evidence showing why they believe this designation is appropriate. If you are
contesting the dangerous dog designation, you may present evidence showing why
your dog should not be declared dangerous.
Some examples include:
- Evidence relating to identity.
Was it your dog who attacked, or could it have been another dog?
- Evidence relating to the
severity of the attack. Was the bite not as severe as contended?
- Evidence relating to why the
dog attacked. Was your dog defending you? Was the person bitten provoking your
The law in your jurisdiction will determine
if you, or another party, may appeal the determination.
If your dog is declared dangerous:
There are a number of things that might
happen. You might be required to muzzle your dog in public or to affix a
“vicious dog” sign to your front door. You may be ordered to remove your dog to
a different jurisdiction — in other words, to find your dog a new home in
There is also the chance that your dog will
be ordered to be euthanized. Because of these serious stakes, we urge anyone
whose dog may be declared dangerous to consult a lawyer.
When Strict Liability Applies to Tennessee
Dog Bite Case
In a strict liability case, the dog’s owner
can be held responsible even if he had no knowledge of a dog’s previous
behavior or tendency to bite. Since knowledge of a dog’s aggressive tendencies
is irrelevant in cases of strict liability, the outcome is typically more
predictable than in a “one bite” situation.
A dog owner may be strictly liable for
injury or damage to personal property in Tennessee if:
- The person who was injured was
in a public place, or
- The person was injured while he
or she was lawfully in a private place
Although a dog owner cannot claim ignorance
of a dog’s prior behavior, there may be other defenses in a strict liability
situation. State law protects dog owners from injury claims if the injured
person provoked the dog, or if the dog was confined in a kennel or cage when
the injury occurred. In addition, the injured person cannot sue a dog owner if
he or she was trespassing or committing another infraction when the injury
Protect yourself—and your assets
Homeowners and renters insurance policies
typically cover dog bite liability. Most policies provide $100,000 to $300,000
in liability coverage. If the claim exceeds the limit, the dog owner is
personally responsible for all damages above that amount, including legal
Most insurance companies will insure
homeowners with dogs. However, once a dog has bitten someone, it poses an
increased risk. In such a case, the insurance company may charge a higher
premium or exclude the dog from coverage altogether. Some companies will
require dog owners to sign liability waivers for dog bites. Some will cover a
pet if the owner takes the dog to classes aimed at modifying its behavior.
A single lawsuit—even if won—can end up
costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. And the greater a person’s assets,
the more potentially is at risk. The personal liability coverage available
through a standard homeowners or automobile policy simply may not be enough, so
you may want to consider purchasing a personal excess liability policy. Also
known as an umbrella liability policy, it protects you against personal
liabilities—such as dog bites—that could impact a substantial portion of your
The amount of umbrella liability coverage
usually ranges from $1 million to $10 million, and covers broad types of
liability. Most insurance companies have required minimum amounts of underlying
coverage—typically at least $250,000 of protection from your auto policy and
$300,000 of protection from your homeowners policy. If you own a boat, then you
must also have boat insurance with a specified minimum amount of coverage.
Personal excess liability insurance is relatively inexpensive. The first $1
million of coverage costs about $150 to $300 per year, the second million about
$75, and subsequent increments of $1 million cost about $50 per year.
Be A Responsible Dog Owner
Ultimately, the responsibility for properly
training and controlling a dog rests with the owner. The most dangerous dogs
are those that fall victims to human shortcomings such as poor training,
irresponsible ownership and breeding practices that foster viciousness or
neglect and abuse. To reduce the chances of a dog biting, the following steps
are recommended by the CDC when getting a dog:
- Consult with a professional
(e.g., veterinarian, animal behaviorist, or responsible breeder) to learn about
suitable breeds of dogs for your household and neighborhood.
- Spend time with a dog before
buying or adopting it. Use caution when bringing a dog into a home of with an
infant or toddler. Dogs with histories of aggression are inappropriate in
households with children.
- Be sensitive to cues that a
child is fearful or apprehensive about a dog and, if so, delay acquiring a dog.
Never leave infants or young children alone with any dog.
- Have your dog spayed or
neutered. Studies show that dogs are three times more likely to bite if they
are NOT neutered.
- Socialize your dog so that it
knows how to act with other people and animals.
- Discourage children from
disturbing a dog that is eating or sleeping.
- Play non-aggressive games with
your dog, such as “go fetch.” Playing aggressive games like “tug-of-war” can
encourage inappropriate behavior.
- Avoid exposing your dog to new
situations in which you are unsure of its response.
- Never approach a strange dog
and always avoid eye contact with a dog that appears threatening.
- Immediately seek professional
advice from veterinarians, animal behaviorists, or responsible breeders if the
dog develops aggressive or undesirable behaviors.