If you're a Tennessee dog owner, or you've been injured by someone else's animal, the state's dog bite injury liability rules and related laws may be of particular interest to you. In this article, we'll discuss:
All civil lawsuits are subject to strict limits on how much time can pass before the case must get started. In every state, laws called statutes of limitations set different time limits for different kinds of cases, but the penalty for missing the filing window is the same: the court will almost certainly dismiss your case, unless a rare extension of the filing deadline is called for.
In most states, dog bite (or dog-caused injury) claims fall under the larger umbrella of "personal injury," so the statute of limitations for personal injury cases typically applies. In Tennessee, the state's statute imposing dog owner liability for bites (Tenn. Code Ann. section 44-8-413) specifically declares that a civil lawsuit brought "pursuant to this section" is governed by the state's statute of limitations for personal injury actions, which is found at Tenn. Code Ann. section 28-3-104. This law sets a one-year deadline for the filing of all lawsuits seeking a legal remedy for "injuries to the person."
So, in the context of a dog bite lawsuit, that means you'll need to file your personal injury complaint in the appropriate Tennessee court within one year of the date of the bite or other injury.
Under Tenn. Code. Ann. section 44-8-413, the owner of a dog has a duty to:
A person who fails to fulfill this legal duty is subject to civil liability for any damages suffered by anyone injured by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in or on the private property of another.
Section 44-8-413 goes on to say that 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. So, under this law, a dog owner is held "strictly liable" if the stated conditions are met. "Strict liability" does not require the injured person to prove that the dog's owner acted with negligence or any fault beyond what the statute requires. If the elements listed in section 44-8-413 are met, the owner is liable for the claimant's damages.
Note that anyone who is "temporarily harboring, keeping or exercising control over the dog" is not an "owner" for purposes of this law, and cannot face strict liability if the animal injures someone.
According to the statute, "running at large" occurs when:
Note that this statute can't be used to hold a dog owner liable if:
The "Residential Exception" and the "One-Bite Rule" in Tennessee
If a bite occurs on property owned by the dog owner, the claimant must prove the elements of the "one bite" rule, namely that the dog owner "knew, or should have known, of the dog's dangerous propensities," according to Tennessee courts. This exception is sometimes referred to as the "residential exclusion."
Learn more about strict liability and the "one bite" rule.
Though the applicability of a claimed defense will depend on the specific circumstances in which the bite or other injury occurred, typically if the injured person provoked the dog, the animal's owner might not be liable for the claimant's damages. And if the claimant was trespassing on the animal owner's property, the owner may also avoid liability for any losses resulting from a bite or other animal-caused injury. But note that while these are listed defenses to "strict liability" in Tennessee, under section 44-8-413, if the dog owner's negligent or intentional conduct was the legal cause of the claimant's injuries, there could still be civil liability.
If you find yourself involved in a dog bite claim in Tennessee—either as a dog owner or as someone who suffered a bite or other injury—it may be time to discuss your situation with a personal injury lawyer.