Dog bite injuries account for more emergency room visits each year than injuries from bikes, mopeds, ATV’s, the playground, inline skating or skateboarding combined. Most victims are bitten either by their own dogs or by dogs owned by someone they know. People that run the highest risk of being bitten tend to be boys between the ages of five and nine. Minnesota Statute § 347.22 governs dog bite injuries in Minnesota:
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.
Minnesota dog bite law is very favorable to dog bite victims. Courts have interpreted the law to be an absolute strict liability statute. Moreover, comparative fault can not be used as a defense to reduce the injured party’s recovery. Seim v. Garavalia, 306 N.W. 2d 806, 810 (Minn. 1981); Lewellin v. Huber, 465 N.W. 2d 62 (Minn. 1991). Reasonable care does not matter, nor does past good behavior of the dog. Id.
But, the dog owner may still use the defense of provocation to escape liability. Grams v. Howard's O.K. Hardware Co., 446 N.W.2d 687, 689 (Minn. App. 1989). Whether or not a dog was provoked is an issue of fact, and therefore an issue for a jury and likely would not be shut down on a motion for summary judgement. Bailey v. Morris, 323 N.W.2d 785, 787 (Minn. 1982).
Recently in Engquist v. Loyas, the court held that “provocation” is voluntary conduct by the victim that exposes him or her to a risk of harm from the dog when he had knowledge of the risk. 803 N.W.2d 400 (Minn. 2011). The Minnesota Supreme Court actually applied the doctrine of assumption of risk. Another case, Carlson v. Friday, previously held that assumption of risk is a defense under the strict liability statute. 694 N.W.2d 828 (Minn. App. 2005). In that case a dog groomer who accepted responsibility for the care of the dog could not recover. Id.
Unfortunately, many of the victims of dog bites are children. In Minnesota additional steps are necessary in dog bite cases involving minors. If the parent, on behalf of the minor child as the natural guardian, decides that it is in the child’s best interest to accept the settlement that the insurance company is offered, the settlement will need to be approved by a judge in Minnesota. By court order, the monies will then be held in special bank account until the child reaches the age of majority. These monies are explicitly reserved for the child.
Additionally, if third-parties have paid for medical bills which are the result of the injury, these third-parties have a subrogation interest in the settlement. The settlement or jury award if the matter proceeds to trial, will be reduced by the amount the third-parties will agree to accept in full satisfaction of the lien. Third-party subrogation claims are subject to a variety of complicated laws under both federal and state law.
If you are the victim of a dog bite and do not bring a lawsuit within a certain time frame, you may lose the right to ever bring a claim for damages against the responsible party. People often know the owner of the dog and hesitate to bring a claim against him or her; however, oftentimes the responsible party’s homeowner’s insurance will be responsible for paying the damages associated with the injury. Do not let that stop you from investigating your rights to recovery or from getting your medical bills paid.
Contact an attorney today if you or someone you love has been the victim of a dog bite. We have experience representing the victims of dog bites and will ensure your rights are protected. At Meuser Law Office, P.A. we offer free one hour consultations. Call us today at 877-746-5680.