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Breaking Down a Dog Bite Case in Minnesota

by | Aug 11, 2018 | Animal Bites, Firm News, Injuries

Aside from car wreck claims, Minnesota personal injury lawyers usually deal with more dog bites than any other type of case. Animal attacks account for more than a third of the homeowners’ insurance claims in Minnesota. Claim value has risen exponentially in recent years, along with the volume. That value has increased over 90 percent since 2003.

Much of that increase is due to larger medical bills in these cases. Animal attack victims usually suffer extremely serious physical injuries. The knockdowns often cause broken bones along with head injuries. At the risk of sounding gruesome, the bite injuries are severe as well. Minnesota personal injury lawyers know that many animals cause both deep puncture wounds and serious lacerations, because these animals sometimes literally tear at the victim’s flesh.

There are substantial noneconomic damages as well. Many animal attack victims must endure Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-type symptoms. That includes things like flashbacks, nightmares, and an unnatural fear of dogs. Without extensive and expensive therapy, these symptoms can last a lifetime. Brain injuries like PTSD are permanent, because dead brain cells never regenerate.

Building a Claim for Damages

Minnesota has a strict liability law in this area. Victims do not have to prove fault, negligence, or any other such element to obtain compensation for their damages. Victims need only establish a connection between the attack and their injuries.

There is more good news. The dog bite law applies to owners, dog walkers, veterinary assistants, and “any person harboring or keeping a dog.” In these situations, the owner is vicariously liable for damages. In plain English, the victim can name the owner as an additional defendant and have access to another source of recovery. Additionally, Minnesota’s dog bite law also applies to more than just bites. It also encompasses any “attack.” That includes:

  • Knockdowns,
  • Bites,
  • Scratches, and
  • Any other injuries associated with the attack.

Many other states have similar laws, but they involve some aspect of the common law “one bite rule.” This rule requires victim/plaintiffs to prove the owner knew that the animal was dangerous. Lawyers sometime refer to this element as scienter, which is Latin for “knowledge.”

In terms of evidence, the victim’s testimony is usually sufficient to establish cause. Minnesota personal injury lawyers may use the res ipsa loquitur (“the thing speaks for itself”) doctrine to assist in these situations. Certain injuries, such as a dog bite, can only happen one way. If the victim was close to a dog and doctors later treated the victim for dog bite injuries, the dog bit the victim. The issue is settled as a matter of law.

The medical bills are usually sufficient to establish the amount of damages. Doctor notes indicate the extent of injuries as the appropriate treatment protocol. Diagnostic tests, such as X-rays and cat scans, support the doctor’s conclusions. Brain injuries often show up on these tests as well. Sometimes, Minnesota personal injury lawyers partner with independent medical experts to drive home this point with the jury.

Altogether, Minnesota dog bite victims are entitled to compensation for both economic damages, such as medical bills, and noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering.

Defenses in Minnesota Dog Bite Cases

Defenses are limited in strict liability cases, since the victim/plaintiff need only establish cause. Sometimes, insurance company lawyers challenge the medical bills. That’s especially common in PTSD cases. They often call experts who insist that PTSD is a processing disorder as opposed to an actual injury. So, Minnesota personal injury lawyers must be ready to respond to these challenges.

Another defense, provocation, is named in the dog bite statute. Essentially, provocation is an offshoot of the contributory negligence defense. The insurance company basically blames the victim for the attack.

But in this context, “provocation” has a very specific meaning. The definition is not result-oriented. Fast movements, verbal teasing, or even minimal physical pain may cause a violent reaction, but these things are not provocative in Minnesota dog bite cases. Instead, the insurance company must prove the victim inflicted so much pain on the animal that it had no choice but to react violently.

The insurance company must establish this point by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). Moreover, the aforementioned res ipsa doctrine works against insurance companies in these situations.

Call Today To Speak With A Minnesota Personal Injury Lawyer From Carlson & Jones

Dog bites often cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced Minnesota personal injury lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. Attorneys can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no insurance or money.