If you are a dog owner in Tennessee, there are three important laws to be aware of: the “One Bite” Rule, Dangerous Dog Laws, and the Running at Large Statutes.
Under Tennessee’s “one bite” rule, dog owners can be liable for a dog bite injury if they knew or should have known their dog might bite someone. It is referred to as the “one bite” rule because it generally meant that dogs were allowed one bite before the owner could be sued. In other words, the dog owner is not automatically at fault when their pet injures someone on their property or inside some other non-commercial property that the dog’s owner rents, leases, or occupies with permission. However, that is not always the case now. If a dog bite victim can prove the owner knew or should have known their pet could be aggressive, they can be held responsible for damages. For example, if a dog owner knows their pet consistently growls and snaps at people, and the dog just underwent surgery, but the owner did not warn a guest not to touch the dog, the owner might be liable if the guest gets bitten while petting the animal.
Tennessee does not have a dangerous dog law, but some counties and cities within the state do. These laws will vary as to what behavior is considered dangerous but typically, what occurs under a dangerous dog law is once a dog is accused of an attack, it can be seized and put on “bite hold” at a local shelter. The owner will often be entitled to a hearing before the dog is declared dangerous. If the dog is declared dangerous, a number of things may happen. The owner may have to comply with different rules, such as muzzling the dog in public or affixing a “vicious dog” sign to their door; the dog may have to be removed to a different jurisdiction or in severe cases, ordered to be euthanized.
Some cities and towns also have breed-specific laws that target particular dog breeds with a reputation for being dangerous. For example, at least 19 cities and towns ban owning pit bulls. Other cities require special permits, and some, such as Mt. Juliet, do not ban owning pit bulls but prohibit them from dog parks. Some breed-specific laws also automatically declare a breed to be “dangerous,” which means owners must comply with additional regulations, such as mandatory microchipping, sterilization, or muzzling in public.
Dog owners can also face strict liability for the harm their pet causes if they fail to keep it under reasonable control at all times or if their dog is running at large. That means dog owners must make sure their dog(s) remain confined to their property unless they are on a leash. If a resident sees a dog in their neighborhood running at large (RAL), they may contact local animal control to catch and return the dog to the owner. If the dog causes harm while RAL, the owner is legally responsible for any damages caused to a person, property, and/or other animals. In addition, they could also receive a citation with a fine or the requirement to appear in court.
Tennessee is unique in that either the “one bite” rule or strict liability may apply to dog bite injury cases. Some situations impose strict liability on a dog owner, which means the dog owner is automatically liable for any harm caused by their dog if they fail to keep their pet under reasonable control or if the dog is running at large. However, the “one bite” rule makes an exception in some cases, allowing dog owners to evade liability if they did not know or had no reason to believe their pet would cause harm.