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Three Liability Theories Buffalo Personal Injury Lawyers Use in Dog Bite Claims

by | Jan 10, 2019 | Animal Bites, Buffalo, Firm News

Every year, dogs attack over four million people. A number of these incidents cause serious injury, and many of these injuries are invisible to the naked eye.

Many dog bite victims are young children, and in these cases, the physical injuries are often gruesome. Dogs usually bite into flesh and then tear it. As a result, victims have both deep puncture wounds and serious abrasions. This combination usually necessitates reconstructive surgery. Techniques in this area have improved significantly since 2009. Progress has not been cheap, which probably explains why medical costs have escalated so much over the last ten years.

Buffalo personal injury lawyers can also obtain compensation for noneconomic damages. Typically, animal attack victims suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-type symptoms. High-stress events, like sudden dog bites or being in combat, erode the cerebral cortex. This part of the brain controls logical thought. As a result, the amygdala, which controls emotional responses, becomes too powerful. This imbalance explains symptoms like flashbacks, heightened awareness, and an unnatural fear of dogs.

Both animal owners and non-owners may be legally responsible for damages in Minnesota. In a nutshell, the Gopher State’s law gives Buffalo personal injury lawyers multiple options in these situations.

Minnesota’s Strict Liability Animal Attack Law

Buffalo dog owners are liable for all animal attack damages as a matter of law. Victims need not prove that the owner knew the animal was dangerous. Victims also do not need to prove fault or negligence. They only need to establish causation.

This law broadly defines “owners.” This term includes both record owners and temporary custodians. Furthermore, if a person takes in a stray dog and never legally adopts it, that person is still the dog’s owner. A temporary custodian could be a veterinarian or a vet assistant.

Minnesota’s strict liability rule is one of the broadest ones in the country. Owners or custodians must pay full compensation for all damages. Moreover, the law bars most of the normal common-law negligence defenses. That includes things like contributory negligence.

Provocation is the only recognized defense, so insurance companies almost always raise it. In this context, provocation means more than aggressive teasing or even physical harm. Instead, victims provoke animals when they inflict so much pain that the animal must respond violently. Moreover, Minnesota’s version of the provocation defense usually requires multiple or extended incidents. And, some individuals, such as very young children, cannot provoke a dog as a matter of law.

Buffalo Personal Injury Lawyers and Negligence Claims

As mentioned, dog bites often cause catastrophic injuries. Fortunately, most homeowners insurance policies have very high claims limits. But in some cases, especially if someone like a dog walker was primarily responsible, the victim may need an additional source of compensation.

Negligence is essentially a lack of ordinary care. Persons who act carelessly are usually liable for the damages they cause, strict liability law or not. To establish negligence, the tortfeasor (negligent actor) must violate a legal duty and thereby cause damages.

These claims also introduce the prospect of third-party liability. Let’s return to the dog walker example. Assume Cindy is walking a dog in an off-leash park. While she is not looking, the dog then attacks a nearby child. If Cindy worked for a dog walking company or even got her gig from a referral agency, that company may be liable for damages under the respondeat superior rule. This doctrine applies if the tortfeasor was:

  • An employee who
  • Was acting within the scope of employment.

The law defines both these prongs in broad, victim-friendly terms. So, even if the company had no direct control over Cindy, it might still be an “employer” for negligence purposes. Minnesota is a modified joint and several liability state. Generally, if there are multiple responsible parties, the judge apportions damages among them based on their percentage of fault.

Scienter Claims in Minnesota

This Latin word means “knowledge.” Scienter harkens back to the common-law one bite rule. In many ways, scienter is like negligence. But the culpability level is higher. If the owner or custodian knew the animal was dangerous and the dog bites someone, carelessness does not matter. Evidence of knowledge includes things like:

  • Vicious barking,
  • Baring of teeth,
  • Lunging, and
  • Growling.

Assume Cindy never took her eyes off the dog. But the dog growls at a child and attacks the child a moment later. Under these facts, Cindy knew the dog was dangerous and did nothing to prevent the incident. Therefore, she may also be liable for additional punitive damages. These damages are available if the tortfeasor disregarded a known risk and endangered other people. That’s arguably the case in this situation.

Contact an Aggressive Attorney

Dog bite victims have several legal options. For a free consultation with an experienced Buffalo personal injury lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We routinely handle matters in Wright County and nearby jurisdictions.