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Dog Bites – What You Need to Know

July 29, 2019

By: Attorney Jeffrey A. Grace

Unfortunately, dogs occasionally hurt people in Minnesota.  When this happens, there may be a personal injury claim for pain and suffering, disfigurement, and medical bills.  A dog-related injury claim can be made by statute or under a theory of common law negligence.  This summary will focus on injury claims made under Minnesota’s dog statue. 

Minnesota’s Dog Statute

Commonly called the “dog bite” statute, Minn. Stat. § 347.22 states:

If a dog, without provocation, attacks or injures any person who is acting peaceably in any place where the person may lawfully be, the owner of the dog is liable in damages to the person so attacked or injured to the full amount of the injury sustained.  The term “owner” includes any person harboring or keeping a dog but the owner shall be primarily liable.  The term “dog” includes both male and female of the canine species.

This statute is favorable to an injured person.  The Minnesota Supreme Court has interpreted this statute to mean that:

“…liability is absolute.  It makes no difference that a dog owner may have used reasonable care; negligence is beside the point.  Past good behavior of the dog is irrelevant.  Neither the common law affirmative defenses nor statutory comparative fault are available to the defendant dog owner.” 

Lewellin v. Huber, 465, N.W. 2d 62, 64 (Minn. 1991).  In other words, that a dog has a history of biting, attacking, or being otherwise aggressive, or that it is a well-behaved dog does not matter.  And showing that a dog owner was acting unreasonably or negligent is not required to be successful in a claim for dog-related injuries under the statute. 

An injured person’s comparative fault will not bar recovery either.  Engquist v. Loyas, 803 N.W.2d 400, 406 (Minn. 2011).  Instead, recovery under the statute is not allowed when an injured person was (1) trespassing or (2) provoking the dog.  But the word “provocation” under the statute has a narrow meaning.  It has been defined as “voluntary conduct that exposes the person to a risk of harm from the dog, where the person had knowledge of the risk at the time of the incident.”  Engquist, 803 N.W.2d at 406.

Who is responsible?

The statute is clear that a dog’s “owner” is responsible for injuries her dog causes when the statute’s conditions are satisfied.  But a person “harboring” or “keeping” a dog can also be held responsible for injuries that dog causes, the same as the dog’s primary owner. 

“Keeping” a dog such that a person is deemed responsible for that dog involves:

  1. a voluntary acceptance;
  2. of temporary responsibility;
  3. as it relates to the management, control, or care of the dog;
  4. exercised in a manner generally similar to that of the dog’s primary legal owner.

Carlson v. Friday, 694 N.W.2d 828, 831 (Minn. App. 2005)(citations omitted).  Under this framework, a person hired to let a dog outside while the dog’s owner was at work was deemed responsible for that dog as its keeper.  Oldenhof v. Hansen, 2018 WL 3014625 (Minn. App., June 18, 2018).  A dog-sitter was also found to be responsible for a dog when she voluntarily assumed responsibility for care of that dog while the dog’s owner was on vacation.  Kent v. Block, 623 N.W.2d 906 (Minn. App. 2001).  Similarly, a veterinarian’s assistant was deemed to be a dog’s keeper when the veterinary office accepted delivery, possession and control of the dog.  Tschida v. Berdusco, 462 N.W.2d 410, 412-13(Minn. App. 1990)

A person “keeping” or “harboring” a dog at the time of the injury cannot, however, make a claim against the dog’s primary owner under the statute for injuries.  Carlson, 694 N.W.2d at 830 (citing Tschida, 462 N.W.2d at 412-13).  In Carlson, a dog groomer’s injury claim against the primary dog owner was rejected because the groomer was deemed to be the dog’s keeper. 

Bite” not required

Bite wounds are common in dog-related injury cases and often involve surgery, medical bills, and scarring. Even though it is commonly referred to as the “dog-bite” statute, Minnesota courts have interpreted Minn. Stat. § 347.22 to apply in situations where a dog did not, in fact, bite anyone. 

The statute is intended to cover scenarios where a dog attacks a person without provocation, but also “when a dog exuberantly jumps on or intentionally runs into a person and injures that person.” Lewellin, 465 N.W.2d at 64.  A dog’s accidental or innocent conduct that causes injury can also result in the dog owner’s liability.  Boitz v. Preblich, 405 N.W.2d 907 (Minn. App. 1987) (dog owner liable for neighbor’s injuries as a result of dog bumping into back of neighbor’s legs.). 

A dog owner has also been held liable under the statute when a dog did not make contact with the injured person.  In Morris v. Weatherly, a dog ran toward a person riding his bicycle, but never made contact.  Morris v. Weatherly, 488 N.W.2d 508 (Minn. App. 1992).  The bicycle rider believed that the dog was going to attack, jumped off of his bicycle, and suffered a shoulder injury.  The dog’s owner was held liable for the bike rider’s injury under the statute even though the dog did not make contact with the rider.  Id. at 510 (noting that the statute does not require physical contact between the dog and inured party.).

Contact Blethen Berens

Claims for dog-related injuries are subject to a statute of limitation and can expire over time.  If you were injured by a dog, contact our office to schedule a consultation with one of our personal injury attorneys.

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