Does the Tennessee Dog Bite Statute Protect People Who are Injured Running from Dogs

The Tennessee Dog at Large statute was drafted generally to protect people who are bitten by a dog that was allowed to run at large. The statute states as follows:

Section 44-8-413. (a) (1) The owner of a dog has a duty to keep that dog under reasonable control at all times, and to keep that dog from running at large. A person who breaches that duty is subject to civil liability for any damages suffered by a person who is injured by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in or on the private property of another.

I recently litigated a case where my client was struck by a car while trying to rescue a dog who was in the road. This created an unusual legal questions. Does the statute apply to the injuries sustained by my client since she was injured by the car and not the dog? In an effort to keep the jury from being instructed that the dog owner’s violation of the statute caused the injury the defendant filed a motion to limit the evidence at trial. We responded to the motion arguing the statute did apply to the case and we argued our position to the judge. Unfortunately, cases interpreting the law are few and far between. The cases that applied to our case were old and were drafted when Nashville was a small community. The trial court, however, felt he had to follow these cases until the court of appeals or the legislature changes the law. In so doing, trial court ruled that the statutes only applied to injuries actually caused by contact with the dog. This left us with a simple negligence case and not the additional claim that the dog owner’s violation of the statute caused my clients critical injuries.

Although, I did understand the reasoning I believe the statute protects people from any injuries which were caused by the dog running at large. In other words, none of the injuries would have occurred but for the direct event of the dog owner failing to restrain the dog. We no longer live in a day where dogs can safely run free. There is too much traffic and congestion on our cities.

Fortunately for our client we were able to resolve the case just before trial based upon the strength of the remaining negligence case. I now have a similar case where this issue will arise again. I am hopeful that in our new case we can successfully address this issue in the appellate courts.

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