Is a Dog Owner Legally Responsible When Their Dog Bites an Invited Guest On Their Property?
Paul is a professional studio guitarist in Nashville. His sister Denice has recently moved to Nashville also. Paul goes to visit his sister Denice so he can see her new home. On the way to Denice’s new home Paul receives a call from her letting him know she has adopted a new dog she has named “Spike.” Denice does not tell Paul the breed of the dog. When Paul arrives at Denice’s new home he parks his car on her driveway. As Paul exits his vehicle he is greeted by a large pit bull terrier that has run without a leash across the front yard and the dog promptly bites Paul on the left hand. Paul is left dominant.
Denice runs from inside her new house to pull the dog away from her brother. Denice says, “I have never known Spike to bite anyone before!” Paul’s hand is severely injured; an ambulance is called and Paul is taken to the emergency room. Upon arrival he is taken immediately into surgery to repair his severely injured left hand. Paul is diabetic and he develops an infection that causes him to ultimately lose the use of his left hand. He can no longer play the guitar and he is close to bankruptcy due to his inability to work.
Denice feels terribly about the situation. Over time the relationship with her brother Paul deteriorates. Paul has no health insurance and he has been sued by the hospital and the doctors for $300,000.00 due to unpaid medical bills. Paul hires a lawyer and sues Denice for negligence for owning and maintaining a dangerous dog that has caused him pain, suffering, disfigurement loss of income and medical expenses.
What is the law in this situation and who should win the lawsuit?
- A) Paul should win because the dog was running without a leash and Spike bit him while being unrestrained, so Denice is automatically liable;
- B) Paul should win because the dog was running without a leash and Spike bit him while being unrestrained, so Denice is automatically liable;
- C) Denice should win because her telephone call to Paul informed him that a dog was on her premises;
- D) Denice should win the lawsuit because she had no prior notice that Spike had ever bitten anyone; or
- E) Denice should be responsible for Paul’s medical expenses only since Paul was injured on her property.
The rule in Tennessee regarding injuries caused by a dog on its owner’s property is as follows: in order for the law to hold the owner or possessor of a dog liable for personal injuries caused to someone else the person injured must prove that the owner/possessor of the dog has prior knowledge of the dog’s “violent or malicious propensities.” Because Spike was on the land of its owner it may run without a leash. However, due to the fact Denice had no prior notice that Spike had bitten anyone or been “malicious” toward someone she should win as a matter of common law if Paul cannot provide proof to contradict her.
There is no law in Tennessee that prohibits ownership of a particular dog breed. There is also no law in Tennessee that requires the property owner to pay medical expenses for someone who gets injured on their property.
*a statute in Tennessee now holds that if a dog owner permits the dog to go unrestrained “off the land” and the dog harms someone else then the owner/possessor of the dog is automatically or “strictly liable” regardless of whether the owner had prior notice of it biting or harming someone.
- D) is the correct answer.