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How Far Does MN’s Dog Bite Law Stretch?

by | May 2, 2019 | Animal Bites, Firm News, Injuries

Minnesota has one of the most victim-friendly dog bite laws in the country. Pet owners are strictly liable for dog bite injuries, even if they did not know the animal was dangerous. Minnesota law essentially presumes that certain dogs are dangerous, based on their size and their genetic makeup. Though not always true, that’s certainly a reasonable assumption.

Liability extends to both economic and noneconomic injuries. Physical dog bite injuries often require extensive reconstructive surgery. That’s particularly true if, as is often the case, the victim is a young child. Buffalo injury lawyers also obtain compensation for emotional injuries. Most dog bite victims, especially children, struggle with life-altering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms.

Because of the strict liability law’s expansive nature, Buffalo injury lawyers on both sides of the bar have tested it from time to time. These experiments are not just academic exercises. They may have a direct impact on your family.

Indirect Animal Attacks

People attack each other in many different ways. But as far as Minnesota courts are concerned, dogs only attack people when they bite.

In a 1991 case, the Minnesota Supreme Court refused to extend the dog bite statute to a distracted driving fatality. A pet owner lost control of her dog in her vehicle, and then she lost control of the vehicle itself. In so doing, she fatally struck a small child. The family filed a legal claim against the pet owner and initially prevailed in trial court.

But the Supreme Court ultimately reversed that decision. The Justices reasoned that “attack” and “injure” are both direct, active verbs. Therefore, although the dog arguably caused the distracted driving incident, it did not actively “attack” or “injure” the child.

The family might still have a claim for negligence, the court noted. According to the record, the animal was “frisky.” So, carrying it unrestrained in a vehicle was not only unsafe for the dog. It was also dangerous for everyone else.

There is an important lesson here for Buffalo injury lawyers. It’s important to proceed under the correct legal theory. In a dog bite claim, that could be the strict liability statute, negligence, or scienter (knowledge). Essentially, if the animal had attacked someone before, the owner is held to a higher standard of care.

Buffalo Injury Lawyers and Provoked Attacks

Provocation is basically the only recognized defense to a strict liability animal attack claim. Other defenses may be available to negligence and scienter claims. However, in this context, “provocation” is a very dense word.

First, it contains both physical and emotional elements. Teasing is not synonymous with provoking. To provoke a dog, the victim must inflict so much pain on the animal that a violent response is fully justified. If the provocation is repetitive, like hitting the dog with a stick, walking away, and then hitting the dog again, this defense is easier to establish. Additionally, the provocation must be malicious. Some people seemingly provoke animals to test their limits or to make themselves feel better.

Second, it doesn’t apply to everyone. As a matter of law, young children cannot provoke animals. Arguably, the same thing applies to very old victims.

Risky Attacks

Assumption of the risk may be a defense as well. In a very controversial case, the Minnesota Supreme Court recently affirmed the core principles of assumption of the risk, which are:

  • Voluntary assumption of
  • A known risk.

Many times, insurance company lawyers try to invoke “Beware of Dog” signs in this area. However, the victim/plaintiff must have been able to see the sign, read it, and understand it. If a bush or tree obscures the sign, it might as well not be there. Similarly, if the victim has limited reading or English skills, the sign might as well not be there. The same thing applies if the victim cannot make the connection between a dangerous dog and a bite injury.

Assumption of the risk is easier to prove if the owner issues a verbal “careful, he bites” warning.

This defense is normally absolute. If the insurance company proves assumption of the risk, and the insurance company has the burden of proof on this issue, the victim/plaintiff typically receives no compensation.

Count on an Aggressive Attorney

Dog bite victims may be entitled to significant compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced Buffalo injury lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these cases.