Be A Responsible Dog Bite Lawyer

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 felony.

An animal owner is anyone who owns, keeps, or cares for an animal. Animal owners are also people who let an animal stay on their property.

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 rabies.

Vicious dogs

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 household.

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 jurisdiction:

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 jurisdictions:

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 dog?

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 another community.

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 occurred.

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 expenses.

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 assets.

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.