Most people in Minnesota have at least one pet, and about a third of the families in Crow Wing County have at least one dog. Large mastiff breeds are especially popular in Minnesota, as many people have rather large properties where these animals can largely roam free. Most of these dogs are very friendly to people they know. But it is in their genes to attack strangers or people who make any moves the dog sees as threatening. Owners can change behavior, but they cannot change DNA.
Perhaps due to the high number of mastiff dogs, Minnesota has one of the broadest dog bite statutes in the country. Some states have laws that protect owners. Neighboring North Dakota and South Dakota both embrace the controversial one-bite rule. This rule basically immunizes owners unless they know their animals are dangerous. But Minnesota’s law protects victims. It establishes strict liability and allows for few defenses.
Medical costs have increased significantly since 2007. So, the average dog bite damage award has increased as well. Moreover, doctors now better understand how a dog bite affects the brain. So, Brainerd injury noneconomic damages, for things like emotional distress, have increased as well.
Liability for Dog Bites
Minn. Statutes Annotated, Section 347.22 states that if a dog “attacks or injures any person. . .the owner of the dog is liable in damages to the person so attacked or injured to the full amount of the injury sustained.” The statute goes on to define an “owner” as “any person harboring or keeping a dog but the owner shall be primarily liable.”
There are at least two important points here. First, the strict liability provision is very broad in terms of both the attack and the damages.
Many Brainerd injury victims are young children or senior citizens. In these situations, the dog’s knockdown may cause as much injury as the dog’s bite. Some strict liability laws only apply to bite injuries. But Minnesota’s law applied to all injuries.
Other states have strict liability laws that also limit damages. For example, in New York, most owners are only strictly liable for medical bills. But Minnesota’s law applies to “the full amount of the injury.” That includes noneconomic damages.
These noneconomic damages include things like emotional distress and loss of enjoyment in life. Many Brainerd injury victims suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for months or years after a dog bite. Other times, the victim has severe scars. Even if they are not on a visible part of the body, such scars significantly affect a person’s self-confidence.
Second, an “owner” is more like a custodian. Dog walkers, vets, and other custodians are all strictly liable for damages. The record owner remains vicariously liable in these situations. So, the victim may generally file a claim against the owner’s homeowners insurance policy and possibly obtain additional compensation.
Minnesota’s strict liability law only applies to direct injuries. In one interesting case, an unrestrained dog tried to get from the back seat to the front seat of a vehicle. That action distracted the driver, who veered off the road and fatally struck a young boy in a ditch. The court eventually held that the plaintiff could not sue under the strict liability law, but a negligence action would probably succeed.
Negligence actions might be available in other dog bite cases as well. For example, a schoolteacher who allows his children to play with a strange dog arguably displays a lack of ordinary care.
Limited Defenses to Minnesota Dog Bites
The vaunted comparative negligence defense is unavailable in dog bite cases. So, insurance company lawyers cannot use this legal loophole and shift part of the blame for the accident onto the victim.
Assumption of the risk may be a defense. This doctrine applies if the victim:
- Voluntarily assumes
- A known risk.
Courts have consistently held that dog groomers and other such professionals cannot sue dog owners under the strict liability law. These individuals assume the risk of injury when they agree to handle dogs.
“Beware of Dog” signs are in a grey area. The insurance company will probably argue that such signs put the victim on notice that the dog is dangerous. But most Crow Wing county want to see additional evidence in these Brainerd injury cases. For example, the insurance company might have to prove that the victim could read the sign and fully understand it.
The provocation defense is the only defense which courts always recognize. In this context, however, provocation is more than teasing or a threatening movement. Instead, the insurance company must prove that the victim inflicted so much pain on the animal that it had to respond violently. Moreover, in 2011, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that provocation must be intentional. A person cannot accidentally provoke a dog.
Team Up with Experienced Lawyers
Dog bites often cause extremely serious visible and invisible injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced Brainerd injury attorney, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We do not charge upfront legal fees in negligence cases.