Common Issues In Dog Bite Cases

In 2016, homeowners’ insurance companies paid over $600 million to dog bite victims. That amount has increased significantly since 2003, largely due to rising medical costs and the nature of the injuries sustained in these incidents.

Almost every year since 2005, medical bill inflation has substantially outpaced non-medical cost increases. Furthermore, many dog bite victims are children, and these individuals often suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-type symptoms, such as nightmares and flashbacks, for many months or years after the attack.

As a result of the nature of these injuries, dog bite victims are usually entitled to compensation for both medical bills and other economic losses, as well as emotional distress and other noneconomic losses.


Minnesota has one of the broadest strict liability laws in the country. It applies to any injury, including knockdowns, as opposed to just bites. It also applies in any place, and not just injuries which occur on the owner’s property. Furthermore, according to Minnesota courts, comparative negligence is not a defense and past good conduct of the dog is completely irrelevant. Owners are responsible, as a matter of law, for both economic damages, such as medical bills, and noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering.

Non-owners may also be responsible for damages if they are negligent. For example, assume a daycare teacher allows a non-service dog onto the premises or a schoolteacher allows children at recess to play with a strange dog. Either incident arguably involves a lack of ordinary care. In negligence cases, victim/plaintiffs must also prove that the tortfeasor (negligent actor) knew that the dog might be vicious. Such evidence includes:

  • Baring teeth,
  • Aggressive barking, and
  • Vicious growling.

Victim/plaintiffs must establish knowledge in dog bite negligence cases by a preponderance of the evidence, which means “more likely than not.”

Possible Defenses

One defense — provocation — is built into the Minnesota dog bite statute. In this context, provocation means more than aggressive or mean-spirited teasing. Instead, the action must be of a physical nature which causes so much pain that the animal’s violent response is legally justified. Very young children usually cannot provoke a dog as a matter of law.

A second defense — assumption of the risk — may be available as well. This defense involves the:

  • Voluntary assumption of
  • A known risk.

Some courts have held that voluntary conduct that exposes the victim/plaintiff to harm excuses the owner from liability, if the victim also had knowledge of the potential harm. Assumption of the risk is usually a defense in strict liability cases.

Contact Aggressive Attorneys

Dog bites often cause serious injuries, and in Minnesota, the law clearly favors victims in these cases. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Woodbury, contact Novitzke, Gust, Sempf, Whitley & Bergmanis. We do not charge upfront legal fees in negligence cases.

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