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Tennessee Homeowners Must Have Notice of a Dog’s Dangerous Propensities to be Liable in a Dog Bite Case

Posted on Feb 14 2016 3:10PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

A recent Tennessee Court of Appeals decision dealt with an interesting dog bite case question.  In Moore v. Gaut, 2015 WL 9584389 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2015) the plaintiff was bitten by the defendant’s Great Dane dog while the dog was in the Defendant’s own fenced in back yard.  The plaintiff was actually on the other side of the fence when he approached the dog. When he came close the dog bit the plaintiff on the face.  The trial court dismissed the case on summary judgment because there was no evidence that the dog had any prior propensity for attacks and there was no evidence of any actual prior attacks. 


The plaintiff appealed this decision and argued that the large size of the Great Dane as well as the breed of the dog should cause the dog to be characterized as part of a “suspect class” of dogs.  Further, that this, standing along, is enough to establish a genuine material fact as to whether the plaintiff should have known the dog had dangerous propensities.  The Tennessee Court of Appeals was asked by the plaintiff to extend T.C.A. § 44-8-413 (a 2007 dog bite statute discussed below) and basically find that certain dogs are simply part of a “suspect class” of dogs because of their size, weight, strength, and general propensities. 


The appellate court noted that this argument by plaintiff is not found in prior Tennessee case law.  The Court therefore declined to vary from the well-established Tennessee rule in dog bite cases in Tennessee.  The Court stated that “[f]or cases like this one, where the dog caused injury on its owner's property, the statute clearly retains and codifies the common law requirement that a claimant establish that the dog's owner knew or should have known of the dog's dangerous propensities.” Gaut at 5. 


As noted above the Tennessee legislator adopted a new statute dealing with dog bit cases in 2007. This statute had not been addressed by the Tennessee Court of Appeals until this case.

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Jason A. Lee is a Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC. He practices in all areas of defense litigation inside and outside of Tennessee.

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Tennessee Defense Litigation Blog
Jason A. Lee, Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC
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Nashville, TN 37203
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E-mail: jlee@burrowlee.com