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Tennessee Dog Bite Laws

Dogs and humans have been companions for over 12,000 years. But unfortunately, there are times when dogs attack. For dog bite victims, an attack can be traumatic, terrifying, and painful. For dog owners, discovering that your playful pooch is capable of inflicting severe dog bite injuries is shocking and dismaying.

Tennessee dog bite laws are somewhat confusing to understand. Below, we’ll delve into the state statutes and the attached penalties, determine who is liable for a dog bite injury, and look at possible defenses for dog bite claims.

Overview of Tennessee Dog Bite Laws

Tennessee dog owners are required to keep their dogs from running at large. “At large” means that the dog is off the owner’s property and unleashed, unless on a hunt, herding, or in a designated area like a fenced-in dog run. If leashed, the dog owner is expected to keep reasonable control of the animal at all times.

In addition to being open to liability, fines, and civil suits for letting your dog be at large, criminal charges can be levied as well. Charges increase based on the severity of the incident:

  • Dog running at large: Class C misdemeanor
  • Dog causing property damage while running at large: Class B misdemeanor
  • Dog causing a bodily injury while running at large: Class A misdemeanor
  • Dog causing a serious/severe injury while running at large: Class E felony
  • Dog causing the death of a person while running at large: Class D felony

The same criminal penalties apply if the dog was trained to fight, attack, or kill. They also apply if the owner knew the dog was dangerous, and it had caused at least one other serious dog bite injury before this attack.

Dog Bite Liability in Tennessee

Tennessee dog bite law provides for both strict liability and a one-bite rule for dog bite injuries, depending on the specifics of the incident. In general, strict liability applies to situations where the plaintiff was injured by a dog in a public place or private place they had permission to be in. If your dog bit someone under these conditions, you are likely liable for the dog bite victim’s medical bills.

The one-bite rule applies in other private places where the dog's owner has permission to be, such as their private property. If your dog has never bitten anyone before, it can be given a “free bite.” In this case, you aren’t liable for medical bills unless the dog bite victim can prove that you knew or should have known about the dog’s dangerous propensities.

This residential exception, paired with the strict liability doctrine, makes for a set of laws unique to Tennessee. It can be somewhat confusing. If you find yourself unsure of what you’re entitled to after a dog attack, consider speaking with a dog bite lawyer for legal guidance.

Possible Tennessee Dog Bite Defenses

Nobody wants their pup to be the subject of a dog bite claim. But it’s important to know your options if the unthinkable happens. As noted above, if your dog is on your property and has never bitten anyone before, you might be spared liability. Still, your dog will then be on record as having bit someone. What if it happens again?

Even if your dog has displayed aggressive behavior before, some situations may remove all blame and liability from you and your dog in case of a dog bite injury. These reasons include:

  • If the dog bite victim was on the dog owner’s private property with the intent to commit an unlawful act
  • If the dog was protecting you or a loved one from attack by the dog bite victim
  • If the attack occurred while the dog was contained in an enclosure or a kennel
  • If the dog bite victim disturbed, harassed, assaulted, or otherwise provoked the dog

Police dogs are exempt from liability, as are dogs engaged in a hunt or herding. If you’re the owner of the dog targeted in a dog bite claim, it might be a good idea to speak with a personal injury lawyer specializing in defense.

Tennessee Dog Bite Laws at a Glance

When dealing with a dog bite injury, deciphering the complex legalese of Tennessee’s dog bite statutes into language that makes sense is an extra headache you don’t need. Below, find a plain English summary of Tennessee dog bite laws.

Tennessee Dog Bite Laws

Tennessee Code: Title 44, Section 8-413

One-Bite Rule for Dog Bites

To file a claim for a dog bite or other dog-related injury, the plaintiff must prove that the owner knew or reasonably should have known that the dog would act aggressively. This is typically established after the first bite (the dog's owner will have been put on notice).

Tennessee's one-bite rule applies to people who are on a farm, private residence, or other non-commercial property that the dog's owner rents, leases, or occupies with permission.

Strict Liability for Dog Bites

Dog owners may be held strictly liable (i.e., no need to prove negligence or fault) if both of the following are true:

  • The dog injured an individual or damaged their personal property

  • The plaintiff was in either a private place with permission or in a public place

Possible Defenses to Dog Bite Claims

The following types of defenses may be established in a dog bite case:

  • The defendant provoked the dog

  • The defendant was trespassing

  • The dog is a police or military dog, and injury occurred while it was performing its official duties, and the handler used appropriate restraint

  • The dog was protecting the owner or another innocent party from the injured person

  • The dog was securely confined in a kennel, crate, or other enclosure

Time Limit for Filing Claim

Personal injury claims: One year

Property damage claims: Three years

See the Tennessee Civil Statute of Limitations for more information about time limits for different types of claims.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts that include federal decisions, ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Other Questions About Dog Bite Laws in Tennessee

Your dog bite case has different details from other instances, but there is often common ground to be found between them. Below are helpful answers to some frequently asked questions about dog bites in Tennessee.

Is it illegal for me to have a pit bull in Tennessee?

As of early 2024, the state of Tennessee doesn’t have any breed-specific legislation in place. But counties and municipalities can implement local ordinances. These include bans, restrictions, and extra requirements such as muzzling, exclusion from dog parks, and registration fees.

Opponents argue that the focus should be on dogs that have proven they’re vicious as opposed to pre-judging certain breeds, as any dog is capable of biting. The battle over breed-specific legislation is constant. So, be sure to check the ordinances where you live.

I got bitten by a dog! Do I need to get shots?

Not necessarily, but let a doctor decide. Clean your wound if you can, but seek medical attention as quickly as possible. Having an up-to-date tetanus shot is good. Tetanus is a bacterial infection that can be transmitted through puncture wounds and scratches, both elements of a dog attack.

If you’re worried about needing to get rabies shots, breathe a sign of relief. Gone are the days when humans required painful shots to the abdomen to fight rabies. The treatment, if a determination can’t be made on the attacking animal, is a life-saving series of shots.

Those with potentially high exposure to rabies, such as veterinarians and animal handlers, can get a rabies vaccine.

How do I file an animal bite report in Tennessee?

The Tennessee Board of Health has a handy online form you can fill out. In addition, you should file a dog bite report with the local authorities soon after the incident. This important step makes dealing with insurance companies easier and pave the way for any later civil actions you might take.

Tennessee Dog Bite Laws: Related Resources

Get Professional Help With Tennessee Dog Bite Laws Today

Nobody wins when a dog attack occurs. But as a victim, it’s important you receive the compensation you deserve. Speaking to a Tennessee personal injury attorney specializing in animal bites can put your mind at ease and help you chart your path to recovery.

If you’re frantic with worry about what is going to happen to your furry friend after a bite incident, it’s never a bad idea to consult with a dog bite lawyer. They’ll know how to defend you and your canine companion. Having someone in your corner to fight for your pup can make all the difference.

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