Let’s suppose a three year old child rides her bike near an unfenced yard and is attacked by a dog. Is the home owner liable for the medical bills, pain and suffering and permanent scarring?
The answer is “It depends.”
The question to resolve is: Has the dog has ever bitten anyone before, or has the owner been put on notice that the dog was vicious?
If not, under Tennessee law, no duty arises until that is known or should have been known.
Lawyers call that the “one bite free” rule. But, after this free bite, (or other vicious behavior) the owner is “on notice” of a dog’s vicious nature and therefore will be liable for personal injuries and damages resulting from a bite.
Then, the owner must take reasonable steps to ensure his dogs do not get out. A fence is a good start, because innocent young kids do wander. Signs may also help with older kids and adult visitors.
However, if this is the second (or later) act of viciousness, then the homeowner’s insurance should cover the pain and suffering, medical bills, and scarring.
Usually, the homeowner’s insurance also has a “Medical Payments” provision that does not consider fault as the above analysis does. It is designed to pay the bills to prevent small claims from becoming larger ones. This can be used even on the first bite.
In a dog attack case I handled, there was proof that the dogs had been aggressive before, and actually my client was attacked on her own property. She suffered multiple arm fractures as she fell in the attack.
The settlement was quite significant, and was reached before filing suit.
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