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Tennessee's Dog Bite Law

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"Does your dog bite?" asks Inspector Clouseau of the hotel clerk, upon seeing a dog at the clerk's feet. "No," the clerk responds. Clouseau bends over to pet the dog, which quickly barks and bites Clouseau in the hand. "I thought you said your dog doesn't bite!" he remarks angrily. Replies the clerk, "That is not my dog." ~ from the 1976 film, "The Pink Panther Strikes Again"

Tennessee households now include over 1.44 million dogs, based on December 2013 U.S. Census data and American Veterinary Medical Association statistics.

  1. Does Tennessee have a dog bite law?

For years, the answer was no - but now it is "yes." On July 1, 2007, the Dianna Acklen Act became law, named for a beloved Franklin County librarian who was attacked and killed by vicious dogs while she was taking her daily walk.

  1. What does Tennessee's dog bite law say?

(1) Dog owners have a duty, or legal responsibility, to keep their dogs under reasonable control at all times.

(2) Owners must not allow their dogs to run at large, meaning onto another person's property or out onto public roads.

(3) If a dog owner fails to comply with either (1) or (2), then the owner may be legally responsible for any injuries or damages caused by the dog, with certain exceptions.

  1. What exceptions protect a dog owner from liability?

A dog owner will not be liable for dog bite injuries if:

  1. The dog is a police or military dog, and the person who gets hurt was involved in the conduct that caused the use of the dog; or
  2. The injured person was trespassing upon the private, non-residential property of the dog's owner; or
  3. The dog was protecting the dog's owner from attack by the injured person or the injured person's dog;
  4. The injury happened while the dog was securely confined in a kennel or crate; or
  5. The injured person harassed or provoked the dog.

NOTE: If a dog bites a guest on the owner's residential property, then the owner is not liable -- unless the injured person can prove that the dog owner "knew or should have known" about the dog's dangerous tendencies.

James B. (Jim) Hawkins is a Tennessee general practice and public interest law attorney. This column represents legal information, and is not intended to take the place of legal advice. All cases are different and need individual attention. Consult with a private attorney of your choice to review the facts and law specific to your case. To suggest future column topics, call (615) 452-9200.

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