Tennessee Dog Bite Cases: No “Big Dog” Exception
Our firm handles Tennessee dog bite cases. In the recent case of Moore v. Gaut, the Tennessee Court of Appeals interpreted Tennessee’s 2007 dog bite statute and declined to create a “big dog exception” to the rule generally limiting a dog owner’s liability.
In 1914, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that a dog owner is only liable for injuries caused by a dog if the owner knew about the dog’s vicious tendencies. In fact, contrary to popular belief, there never has been any rule that an injured person prove that a dog previously bit someone before he could recover, although that fact would certainly help to show that a dog owner knew about the tendency of his dog. In 2007, the Tennessee General Assembly enacted Tenn. Code Ann. § 44-8-413 to address and tweak the law of injuries caused by dogs. That statute created a distinction between whether injuries by a dog bite occurred on or off the dog owner’s property, for example where a dog is running loose in a neighborhood. When a dog bite occurs on the dog owner’s property, the statute clearly retains and codifies the common law requirement that the injured person prove that the dog’s owner knew or should have known of the dog’s dangerous propensities. By comparison, when a dog is running loose, there is no such requirement.
So what’s the big deal about big dogs?
Nothing according to the Tennessee Court of Appeals. In Moore v. Gaut, the plaintiff came to repair a satellite dish on the defendant dog owner’s property. The defendant had a large Great Dane, which was kept in a fenced-in area of the yard. The plaintiff did not enter the fenced-in portion of the yard where the dog was; however, while the plaintiff was walking beside the fence, the dog jumped up, leaned over the fence, and bit the plaintiff’s face. In his defense, the dog owner filed a motion for summary judgment (i.e. dismissal) by submitting a sworn affidavit stating that the dog had never bitten or attacked anyone. Since the dog bite occurred on the dog owner’s property, the Court of Appeals agreed that the dog owner was not liable because the owner had been able to show that he had no knowledge or notice that the dog had ever bitten or attacked anyone. The plaintiff, unable to dispute that testimony, urged the Court of Appeals to adopt a “big dog exception” to the rule. Specifically, the plaintiff argued that because Great Danes are an extraordinarily large breed, that the dogs are naturally dangerous based on their size, weight, and strength and that this alone should place the owner on notice of a dangerous propensity.
The Court of Appeals didn’t bite, and declined to carve out an exception for big dogs.
Moral of the Story for Tennessee Dog Bite Cases
If you are bitten or injured by a dog on the dog owner’s property, it is critical to investigate and discover whether the owner knew of the dog’s vicious or dangerous tendencies. That does not necessarily mean that you have to prove that the dog has bitten or injured someone before, but rather some knowledge of the owner of mischievous or potentially rough or dangerous behavior that might cause an injury.
We Represent Dog Bite Victims.
We accept dog bite cases. Hopefully you will never be injured by a dog, but if you are, you need a good lawyer on your side because the proof you need isn’t likely to be the sort of thing the dog owner, or his insurance company, is likely to volunteer. Our team at Wiseman Bray PLLC can help you properly investigate your claim and get the information you need in order to determine if your injury is compensable under Tennessee dog bite law. If you need help, call us at 901-372-5003.