While dogs can be wonderful companions, responsible ownership and careful supervision are essential to preventing dog bites. Owners must recognize the inherent risks and take appropriate measures to ensure the safety of anyone the dog interacts with—especially children. When an owner fails to control their dog, they could be liable for injuries the dog causes if it bites or knocks someone off their feet.
Tennessee's dog bite laws are complicated, and you should not try to figure out liability on your own. If you or your child is bitten and seriously injured by a dog in Montgomery County, the first thing you should do is GET PETE!
Understanding Dog Bite Liability in Tennessee
Most states operate under one rule when it comes to dog bites: either the owner is liable the first time the dog bites (strict liability), or they are not liable unless they were aware that the dog was aggressive (one-bite rule). In Tennessee, however, we operate under both rules and which applies depends on the circumstances of the bite.
Generally speaking, if the dog is loose when it bites someone, its owner is strictly liable for damages because they were not in control of the animal. However, if the bite occurred on the owner's property and the owner had no reason to believe that the dog was aggressive, they might not be liable for injuries, even if the victim was a child. If you or your child was seriously injured, we urge you to talk to our legal team to help determine which law applies and whether you are owed damages.
Types of Dog Bite Injuries
We like to think of dogs as our friends; however, dogs are animals with strong jaws and sharp teeth. When they decide a person is a threat, they can do some serious damage, especially if the victim is a child. Common injuries caused by aggressive or protective dogs include the following:
- Puncture wounds. Dog bites often result in puncture wounds caused by the canine's teeth penetrating the skin. These injuries can be deep, increasing the risk of infection if not promptly and properly treated.
- Lacerations and tears. The force of a dog bite can cause lacerations and tears in the skin, muscles, and underlying tissues. Severe lacerations may require surgical intervention and leave lasting scars.
- Soft tissue injuries. Soft tissue injuries, such as bruising and contusions, are common after a dog attack. These injuries can lead to pain, swelling, and long-term discomfort.
- Fractures and broken bones. The powerful jaws of certain dog breeds can cause fractures and broken bones in the victim. Children, with their developing bones, are particularly susceptible to these types of injuries.
- Facial injuries. Facial injuries are prevalent in both children and adults after a dog attack. These injuries may include bites to the nose, lips, and eyes, often resulting in disfigurement and requiring extensive reconstructive surgery.
- Nerve damage. Dog bites can damage nerves, leading to loss of sensation, weakness, or paralysis in the affected area. Nerve injuries can have long-term consequences and may necessitate ongoing medical care.
- Infection. Due to the bacteria present in a dog's mouth, bite wounds are prone to infection. Children, with their less developed immune systems, may be more susceptible to infections that can lead to complications if not promptly treated.
- Emotional trauma. Beyond physical injuries, dog attacks can cause emotional trauma, particularly in children. Fear, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may manifest and require psychological intervention.
- Scarring and disfigurement. Severe bites can result in scarring and disfigurement, affecting the victim's physical appearance and potentially leading to long-term self-esteem and psychological issues.
- Crush injuries. Some larger dog breeds have strong jaws capable of causing crush injuries. These injuries can lead to damage to muscles, blood vessels, and bones.
- Knockdown injuries. In cases where a large or aggressive dog knocks a person down during an attack, additional injuries such as concussions, head trauma, or fractures may occur.
- Fatalities. While relatively rare, fatal dog attacks can occur, especially when children or vulnerable adults are involved. Fatalities often result from severe injuries, massive bleeding, or complications such as infection.
Dog Breeds That Are Often Aggressive in Tennessee
Any dog, regardless of breed, can exhibit aggressive behavior if not properly socialized and handled, but certain breeds are associated with a higher incidence of dog bites. While these breeds are probably not inherently more aggressive, they are often chosen by owners who are looking for intimidating, protective dogs and encourage them to be that way.
Popular breeds that may be more likely to bite because of their natural temperament include:
- Chihuahua. Often poorly trained and socialized because of their small size, chihuahuas are fiercely loyal to their owners and won't hesitate to bite when they perceive a threat.
- Dachshund. With a natural inclination as a guard dog, dachshunds that are not properly restrained can go on the attack to defend their owner or territory.
- Chow chow. These dogs have a high prey drive and don't easily accept strangers and other dogs. They can respond to new situations with aggression and are large enough to do considerable damage.
- Doberman pinschers. Dobermans, often used as guard dogs, may display protective behaviors, especially if not adequately socialized.
- Rottweilers. Rottweilers are extremely territorial and protective. These traits, combined with their size and strength, make them a serious threat to visitors.
- Pit bulls. This category includes a large number of mixed-breed terriers that are, unfortunately, often raised to be aggressive guard dogs.
It's crucial to emphasize that a dog's behavior is influenced by various factors, and aggression is not solely determined by breed. Any dog that has not been properly socialized to accept strangers and other dogs, has not been trained to respond to commands, or has been neglected or abused by its owner can become a dangerous threat.
Children Are the Most Likely Victims of Dog Bites
Children are particularly vulnerable to dog bites for a number of reasons. In many cases, it's the child's actions that cause the dog to react. However, owners owe a particular duty of care to children when it comes to their dogs. Children may not fully understand how to approach or interact with dogs, and their small size makes them more vulnerable to serious injuries.
Some of the reasons children are bitten by dogs more often than adults include the following.
- Lack of understanding. Children, especially younger ones, aren't clued into a dog's behavior and body language. They might misinterpret a dog's signals or not recognize signs of distress, potentially putting them in situations where a dog feels compelled to defend itself.
- Size and eye level. Children are often at eye level or below with dogs, making direct eye contact more likely. In dog communication, prolonged direct eye contact can be perceived as a threat or challenge, increasing the risk of defensive behavior from the dog.
- Unintentional provocation. Children may unknowingly provoke a dog by engaging in behaviors that can be perceived as threatening, such as sudden movements, loud noises, or attempts to take away the dog's food or toys. Dogs may react defensively when they feel their space or possessions are being encroached upon.
- Excitement and energy. Children are often more energetic and excitable than adults. While this exuberance is natural, it can be overwhelming for some dogs, leading to reactive behavior. High-pitched voices and sudden movements can contribute to a dog feeling stressed or threatened.
- Unpredictable behavior. Children's behavior can be unpredictable, and this unpredictability can make some dogs uncomfortable. Dogs may become anxious or defensive when faced with erratic movements or loud, sudden noises.
- Lack of supervision. In many instances, dog bites occur in the absence of proper supervision. Leaving a child alone with a dog, even one familiar to the family, increases the risk of unexpected interactions that could result in a bite.
- Inexperience in recognizing warning signs. Even when a dog exhibits warning signs of stress or discomfort, children may not recognize these signs or may not understand their significance. Ignoring or misinterpreting these signals can lead to a dog resorting to defensive behaviors.
- Natural curiosity. Children are naturally curious, and their curiosity may lead them to approach or interact with a dog without considering the dog's comfort level. Dogs may react defensively when they feel overwhelmed or invaded.
Regardless of what led to a child being bitten by a dog, the child usually cannot be held responsible, especially if it is a very young child. It may be a different story with older children who purposely provoke a dog, and the dog is forced to defend itself, but you owe it to your child to consult with a dog bite attorney to understand your options.