The Mn Criminal Defense, Personal Injury & Family Law Blog
Can Personal Injury Lawyers in Brainerd, MN Overcome Dog Bite Defenses?
August 25, 2019
Every year, dogs bite over 4.5 million people in the United States. Many of these incidents result in serious injury, especially if the victim was a child. As outlined below, these injuries include both physical and emotional wounds, in many cases.
Because of the nature of these injuries, and also because of Minnesota’s victim-friendly dog bite laws, personal injury lawyers in Brainerd, MN are often able to obtain substantial compensation in these cases. In fact, the average dog bite injury settlement amount has almost doubled since 2003.
Since significant damages are within relatively easy reach, insurance company lawyers usually defend these cases very tenaciously.
Dog Bite Injuries in Crow Wing County
When animals suddenly attack without warning, the victims usually sustain three different types of injuries, as follows:
Knockdown: Depending on the type of breed, the knockdown may cause head injuries and broken bones. The Centers for Disease Control has not kept breed-specific bite information since the 1990s, so statistics are difficult to come by in this area.
Bite: When dogs bite, their teeth usually cause both lateral tears and deep puncture wounds. The surface lacerations usually require extensive and costly reconstructive surgery. Meanwhile, the deep puncture wounds typically pierce internal organs and cause extensive internal bleeding. There is an interplay here. Surgeons usually cannot touch surface wounds until they stop the internal bleeding.
Emotional Effects: Doctors can help patients recover physically, but when it comes to emotional injuries, their effectiveness is limited. Many dog bite victims experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-type symptoms, such as flashbacks, nightmares, and heightened awareness. These symptoms usually only improve after many months of therapy, and even then, the symptoms usually do not completely disappear.
Personal injury lawyers in Brainerd, MN can usually obtain compensation for economic losses, such a medical and therapy bills, as well as noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
Your Claim for Damages
Minn. Statutes Annotated, Section 347.22 is one of the broadest dog bite laws in the country. One court described it as follows: “[L]iability is absolute. It makes no difference that the dog owner may have used reasonable care; negligence is beside the point. Past good behavior of the dog is irrelevant.” Those stern words underscore the law’s strong nature.
Additionally, provocation is the only available defense. So, these claims are not just relatively easy to establish. They are also relatively easy for personal injury lawyers in Brainerd, MN to defend.
However, damages in strict liability cases are often somewhat limited. Since negligence is irrelevant, the jury never hears anything about the owner’s lack of control over the animal.
Alternatively, victims may pursue claims under the scienter (knowledge) rule. If the owner knew the dog was potentially dangerous and the dog attacked someone, the owner may be liable for damages. Evidence of knowledge includes prior attacks and also pre-bite viciousness, like aggressive barking or sudden lunging.
There are pros and cons here as well. Once jurors learn about owner negligence, they are often more willing to award large damages. However, victims must present additional evidence in scienter claims. And, they must also deal with both of the defenses discussed below.
Other options, such as negligence per se, may be available as well. Negligence per se usually involves the violation of a leash law or other animal restraint ordinance.
Personal Injury Lawyers in Brainerd, MN and Assumption of the Risk
This affirmative defense is only available in negligence claims. Tortfeasors (negligent actors) are not liable for the aforementioned damages if the victim:
A known risk.
In the dog bite context, this defense usually involves a “Beware of Dog” or other warning signs. Such signs make the defense easier to prove, but they do not conclusively establish it.
Specifically, the defendant must prove the victim knew about the risk of a dog bite. In other words, the victim must have been able to read the sign and understand what it meant. If the victim was a child or someone with limited English proficiency, such a showing is difficult to make.
The Provocation Defense
As mentioned, this defense is available in strict liability claims as well as negligence claims, so it is usually the go-to defense in dog bite cases. Yet despite the best efforts of homeowners’ insurance company lawyers, the provocation defense often does not hold up in court.
In everyday language, provocation could include verbal teasing. And, provocation could also be unintentional. But in a dog bite context, provocation must be both physical and intentional. Sudden movements and words alone are not legally sufficient to provoke a dog. Furthermore, it is impossible to “accidentally” provoke an animal in these situations.