The old "every dog gets one free bite" rule was severely limited as a result of legislation enacted by the Tennessee General Assembly several years ago. In fact, the new law works to protect motorcyclists and bicyclists, too. Here are the new rules:
44-8-413. Civil liability for injury caused by dogs.
(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.
(2) The owner may be held liable regardless of whether the dog has shown any dangerous propensities or whether the dog’s owner knew or should have known of the dog’s dangerous propensities.
(b) Subsection (a) shall not be construed to impose liability upon the owner of the dog if:
(1) The dog is a police or military dog, the injury occurred during the course of the dog’s official duties and the person injured was a party to, a participant in or suspected of being a party to or participant in the act or conduct that prompted the police or military to utilize the services of the dog;
(2) The injured person was trespassing upon the private, nonresidential property of the dog’s owner;
(3) The injury occurred while the dog was protecting the dog’s owner or other innocent party from attack by the injured person or a dog owned by the injured person;
(4) The injury occurred while the dog was securely confined in a kennel, crate or other enclosure; or
(5) The injury occurred as a result of the injured person enticing, disturbing, alarming, harassing, or otherwise provoking the dog.
Subsection (e) of the statue contains two important definitions:
(1) "Owner" means a person who, at the time of the damage caused to another, regularly harbors, keeps or exercises control over the dog, but does not include a person who, at the time of the damage, is temporarily harboring, keeping or exercising control over the dog; and
(2) "Running at large" means a dog goes uncontrolled by the dog’s owner upon the premises of another without the consent of the owner of the premises, or other person authorized to give consent, or goes uncontrolled by the owner upon a highway, public road, street or any other place open to the public generally.
We are in the process of using this statute to sue a dog owner who allowed his dog to run at large. The dog attacked a motorcyclist and a crash with serious injuries resulted.