The Mn Criminal Defense, Personal Injury & Family Law Blog
How Do Brainerd Personal Injury Lawyers Win Dog Bite Cases?
March 25, 2019
A few dog bites are just embarrassing. But for the most part, nothing else causes the kinds of physical and emotional injuries than an animal attack can cause.
Physically, dog bite injuries are a lot like car crash injuries. Both are incredibly varied. Animal knockdowns often cause broken bones and head injuries, especially if the victim is very young or very old. But the knockdown is just the beginning. When dogs bite, their jaws often create both deep puncture wounds and severe lacerations. Their claws often do the same thing.
All that physical trauma creates psychological trauma. Many dog bite victims must endure Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-type symptoms, such as flashbacks and heightened awareness, for months or years following the attack.
Due to the serious nature of these injuries, Brainerd personal injury lawyers have several procedural options. Dog bite victims are in the driver’s seat. In many cases, victim/plaintiffs need little evidence to collect money for their economic losses, such as medical bills, and their noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages may be available as well, in some cases.
Minnesota’s Strict Liability Law
According to Section 347.22, animal owners are “liable in damages to the person so attacked or injured to the full amount of the injury sustained” if their dogs attack people. Victim/plaintiffs need not prove fault or negligence. They just need to prove cause.
Typically, homeowners’ insurance policies encompass unintentional injuries to third parties, such as dog bites. That’s an important point, because many homeowners are essentially judgment-proof.
As a matter of law, provocation is the only defense to strict liability claims. This doctrine is very limited. In the everyday world, “provocation” could mean sudden moves, teasing, or pretty much anything else that the targeted person perceives as threatening or hostile. But to a Brainerd personal injury lawyer, “provocation” essentially means physical torture. Anything less is insufficient, from a legal standpoint.
However, there is a downside to the strict liability law. Unless the dog was at the home and/or under the owner’s direct control, most homeowners’ insurance companies will deny coverage. Fortunately, Minnesota courts have made it clear that the strict liability law is not the exclusive remedy in these situations.
This Latin word means “knowledge.” Scienter claims are an offshoot of the common law one-bite rule. Before the advent of strict liability laws like Section 347.22, Brainerd personal injury lawyers had to prove that the owner or custodian knew the animal was dangerous. Evidence of knowledge is usually either:
Prior attacks against animals or people, or
Aggressive action, such as barking or lunging, immediately before the attack.
Additionally, victim/plaintiffs must generally establish actual knowledge of dangerous propensities. Constructive knowledge, or should have known, is usually not enough. And, the viciousness must have been unprovoked. Only sudden attacks or out-of-the-blue aggressive growling put owners on notice that their animals are potentially dangerous.
So, scienter claims are much harder to establish in court than strict liability claims. But, the additional evidence often translates to bigger damages. In the minds of many Crow Wing County jurors, owners who know their dogs are dangerous yet do nothing to protect people are far worse than owners whose dogs literally go off the chain for a moment or two.
If the dog was with a temporary custodian, such as a veterinarian or doggie daycare, scienter is usually the way to go, even though the strict liability law may be applicable.
Brainerd Personal Injury Lawyers and Negligence
Sometimes, the dog owner is a renter or a person with no liability insurance. In other cases, the tortfeasor (negligent actor) might be a teacher who allows her students to play with a strange dog.
These situations often involve a lack of ordinary care, and that means a negligence claim may be successful. Typically, people have a duty of reasonable care. If they breach that duty, and that breach substantially causes damages, the tortfeasor may be legally responsible.
Negligence also often means third-party liability. Vicarious liability gives victims an additional source of compensation. For example, employers, like a school district, are generally responsible for the negligent acts of their employees, such as schoolteachers. And, property owners are generally responsible for the unintentional injuries which occur on their property, assuming they knew about the danger.