According to The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), over 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year, over 800,000 of those bites require medical attention and roughly half of the dog bites that require medical attention are to children. Any dog can, and under the right conditions, will bite. However, most of the cases we see involve Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, or some mix breed that looks like one of the two.
Statistically, the Molosser breeds, including Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Presa Canarios, Cane Corsos, mastiffs, Dogo Argentinos, Fila Brasieros, Sharpeis, boxers, and their mixes accounted for 86% of the reported fatal and disfiguring dog bites for the years 1982-2014. See Merritt Clifton study available at http://www.dogsbite.org/pdf/dog-attack-deaths-maimings-merritt-clifton-2014.pdf According to K-9 Journal, other significant contributing factors are the sex of the dog (92% of bites are from male dogs) and dogs that are kept on chains (approximately 25% of bites are from dogs kept on chains).
“Rules imposing liability for harm caused by domestic animals find their origin in authority no less ancient than the Pentateuch.” Wilson v. Simmons, 103 S.W.3d 211, 217, 2003 Mo. App. LEXIS 184, *11 (Mo. Ct. App. 2003). Traditionally, animal attack laws have been categorized as following either the “one bite rule” or strict liability. In simple terms, the one bite rule requires a dog to have actually bitten someone or thing prior to the bite for which a plaintiff seeks to attach liability. A strict liability rule imposes liability to animal owners for all injuries caused by their animals regardless of whether or not the animal has previously injured anyone. The one bite rule and strict liability approaches are not uniform from state to state.
Texas – An owner of a vicious animal can be strictly liable for harm, while an owner of a non-vicious animal can be “subject to liability for his negligent handling of such an animal.” Bushnell v. Mott, 254 S.W.3d 451, 452, 2008 Tex. LEXIS 217, *3, 51 Tex. Sup. J. 681 (Tex. 2008).
Louisiana – Pursuant to Louisiana Civil Code Article 2321:
The owner of an animal is answerable for the damage caused by the animal. However, he is answerable for the damage only upon a showing that he knew or, in the exercise of reasonable care, should have known that his animal’s behavior would cause damage, that the damage could have been prevented by the exercise of reasonable care, and that he failed to exercise such reasonable care. Nonetheless, the owner of a dog is strictly liable for damages for injuries to persons or property caused by the dog and which the owner could have prevented and which did not result from the injured person’s provocation of the dog. Nothing in this Article shall preclude the court from the application of the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur in an appropriate case.
Also see Coburn v. Dixon, 2016 La. App. LEXIS 815, *7-8, 15-1095 (La.App. 3 Cir. 04/27/16); (La.App. 3 Cir. Apr. 27, 2016).
Tennessee – Tenn. Code Ann. § 44-8-413 (2007), pertaining to injuries caused by dogs, provides in pertinent part:
(a)(1) The owner of a dog has a duty to keep that dog under reasonable control at all times, and to keep that dog from running at large. A person who breaches that duty 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.
(2) The owner may be held liable regardless of whether the dog has shown any dangerous propensities or whether the dog’s owner knew or should have known of the dog’s dangerous propensities.
Also see Moore v. Gaut, 2015 Tenn. App. LEXIS 995, *11-12 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 30, 2015).
Mississippi – Mississippi follows what is known as the dangerous propensity rule. There must be “some proof that the animal has exhibited some dangerous propensity or disposition prior to the attack complained of” and “it must be shown that the owner knew or reasonably should have known of this propensity or disposition and reasonably should have foreseen that the animal was likely to attack someone.” Poy v. Grayson, 273 So.2d 491, 494 (Miss. 1973).
The dangerous propensity rule falls between a one bite rule and strict liability. An injured person does not have to show that the dog or animal has previously bitten, but the animal owner does not incur liability for any and every bite. The injured person must demonstrate that the animal exhibited some dangerous propensity or disposition of which the owner knew or should have known for liability to attach to the animal owner.
In addition to imposing liability on dog owners, Mississippi has also applied a hybrid dangerous propensity /premises liability rule to lessors of property where the lessor has actual or constructive knowledge of a dangerous animal owned by others in an area of the lessor’s property designated by the lessor for common use. See Mongeon v. A & V Enterprises, 733 So.2d 170, 171 (Miss. 1997). In Mongeon, evidence that a resident manager and a shareholder of the property were notified of the dogs in question growling at a person near the washateria prior to attacking the plaintiff in the same area was sufficient “credible evidence from which the jury may have drawn a reasonable inference supporting its verdict.” Mongeon, at 172.
As recently made clear by the Mississippi Supreme Court in Olier v. Bailey, 164 So.3d 982 (Miss. 2015) the dangerous propensity rule and premises liability can be separate legal theories and are not mutually exclusive. In Olier, the plaintiff sued Bailey for a broken arm sustained by Olier while fleeing from a goose attack on Bailey’s property. The trial court and the Mississippi Supreme Court found that Olier was a licensee as a matter of law because she “came to Bailey’s home at Bailey’s invitation entirely for her own benefit.” Olier, at 988. As a licensee, the only duty Bailey owed Olier pursuant to premises liability law was “to refrain from willfully or wantonly injuring her.” Id., at 988. The Mississippi Supreme Court found Olier could not “proceed under a theory of premises liability as a matter of law. However…whether Bailey breached her duty of care toward Olier as an animal owner is a different question.” Id., at 990.
With respect to the dangerous propensity rule portion of Olier’s claim, the Court reiterated the familiar standard that “an actual physical attack was not necessary to put an owner on notice of his or her animal’s dangerous propensities, but instead held that evidence of barking, growling, and chasing can be sufficient to put an animal’s owner on notice of the animal’s dangerous propensity.” Id., at 993. It was alleged that Bailey’s geese squawked, hissed and bit Olier. Id., at 992. It was further alleged that Bailey had given a bamboo pole to Olier to fend off the geese. At some point Olier dropped the pole and a young goose bit Olier in the crotch. Id. Olier then tripped and broke her arm trying to retreat from the geese. Id., at 992.
In applying the dangerous propensity rule to the facts, the Court reversed Bailey’s summary judgment holding “there remains a dispute of fact whether Olier’s injury was reasonably foreseeable under the totality of the circumstances….Under the totality of the circumstances, if the injury by an animal is reasonably foreseeable, the animal’s owner may be held liable. Id., at 994. As a result, Olier’s case will go back for trial where she will have an opportunity to convince a jury that her injury should have been reasonably foreseeable to Bailey.
If you, a family member or loved one are injured by a third party’s animal (whether it be a dog, goose, monkey or whatever), consult with an attorney about the situation immediately. While dog attacks to children are usually the most serious of these claims, we have successfully handled claims where our adult clients suffered broken ankles and various injuries other than dog bites as a result of the negligence of animal owners.
In investigating these claims on behalf of our clients, there are often items of evidence which need to be immediately preserved such as veterinary records, witness statements, police or animal control reports, neighborhood association minutes and homeowner’s insurance documents. These items can be lost, misplaced or destroyed if you do not promptly pursue your claim. Contact us to discuss your injury claim at no cost.