Since the pandemic began, pet adoptions have soared. Roughly 23 million Americans have adopted a pet since this whole mess started. And while that is great news for the animals, it has led to a rising increase in the number of unleashed dogs in neighborhoods. Quite simply, many pet owners became used to school playgrounds and fields being empty because of the moratorium on team sports and have yet to re-adjust now that young kids and families are once again occupying those spaces. So what’s the big deal? Each year, there are 4.5 million dog bites with roughly 800,000 needing medical attention, and half of the victims are children. Read on to brush up on Tennessee’s leash laws and what you can do to protect yourself and others.
First, when you purchase or adopt a dog, you are not just assuming responsibility for the care of the dog but also for any harm the dog causes. The Tennessee Legislature made this responsibility a law after Dianna Acklen was mauled to death by three dogs while she was out walking. Specifically, Tennessee law requires dog owners to keep their dog under reasonable control and not allow a dog to run loose. Stated most simply, Tennessee has a leash law. If the dog owner fails to control their dog and the dog harms someone, the owner is responsible for the damage with very few exceptions most of which fall into the no-duh category.
First, the law does not apply to a military or police dog that attacks or bite someone while performing its official duties. Similarly, no liability attaches to the owner if the dog bites someone who is trespassing on private, non-residential property of the dog’s owner. Third, if the dog is protecting the owner or another innocent party from an attack, then no liability applies. Fourth, if the dog is confined to a crate or kennel or some other secure enclosure, there is no liability if the dog bites someone. Fifth, no liability attaches if a person provokes or harasses the dog before it bites or attacks. Finally, if the dog bites someone while on its owner’s residential property, the owner is only responsible if the dog owner knew or should have known the dog was prone to biting. This is typically demonstrated by showing the dog had bitten or attacked someone before.
Many people let their dog run loose because they think their dog is too sweet to ever bite someone, and they may be right. However, dog bites and attacks are not the only risk of harm presented by a dog running loose. We have represented clients who have suffered serious motorcycle and bicycle accidents because of a loose dog. Friendly, yet overly enthusiastic, loose dogs have knocked people down or tripped them resulting in broken bones and more.
Our best advice is to keep your dog on a leash unless they are confined to your own property or in a designated dog park. We also recommend you check your renters and homeowners’ insurance policy. Most standard policies cover dog-related claims but only up to a certain amount. The average dog bite claim settlement in the United States is $45,000.00, and some are significantly more especially if there are facial wounds or wounds that require reconstructive surgery. If you own a “bully breed”, which is often defined as Pitbulls, German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers, Rottweilers, etc., then your dog may be excluded from typical homeowners’ and renters’ insurance, which is unfortunate because statistically these are the dogs most likely to bite and the most likely to do serious harm. If you own one of these breeds, we suggest purchasing a separate insurance policy to protect yourself and anyone your dog may injure either through a bite or otherwise.
At the Law Offices of John Day, we are dog lovers. John and Joy Day’s dog Lincoln Day is spoiled absolutely, completely and horribly rotten. But, we also know that dogs are capable of doing a lot of damage. Our award-winning attorneys have been privileged to help over one hundred families with dog injury claims and we are here to help you too if you need it. Simply give us a call for a free, no-obligation consultation. We handle all dog injury claims on a contingency basis so we only get paid if we recover money for you.
First photo by Hannah Lim on Unsplash