A state appeals court issued an opinion stemming from injuries a Tennessee woman suffered while encountering two dogs. The woman and her daughter were walking on a sidewalk adjacent to a Whole Foods Market when two dogs began barking at the pair. The dogs began barking aggressively at the woman’s daughter; in response, the woman picked up some rocks and threw them towards the dogs to distract them so that her daughter could get away. The dogs began to charge at the woman, and as she was running away, she fell into a chair and sustained injuries to her hip and arms.
The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the company that operated the business the dogs escaped from. They alleged that their owners were liable under Tennessee Code 44-8-413, which mandates that dog owners maintain a duty to keep their dog “under reasonable control at all times and from keeping their dogs from running at large.” Further, the statute explains that those who breach the duty may be liable for civil damages to the injury victim.
In this case, the company argued that the statute did not apply to them because they were not the “owner” of the dog. The defendants argued that the plaintiffs might claim that the business had temporary custody or control of the animals; however, this temporary control is insufficient to impose liability. The trial court found in favor of the defendant, and the appeals court reversed the summary judgment.
In reviewing the matter, the appeals court inquiry primarily focused on whether the evidence established that the company was not the owner of the dogs in question. The court reviewed the definition of “owner” under the statute, finding that the statutory understanding of “owner” is broader than just one with a property interest in the dog. The court found that the mere presence of an animal at a business does not necessarily amount to ownership. Instead, ownership relies on whether the dog’s presence benefits the business in the matter. If the dog is for the employer’s benefit, the employer may be considered the dog’s owner. However, if the dog is on the premises for the employee’s convenience, the employer is not likely the dog’s keeper.
In this case, the company advertised the dogs as “shop dogs” and marketed the dogs on the store’s various social media accounts. Further, the company allows the dogs to roam around the store, and customers testified that the dogs were regularly on the store’s premises. Taking this evidence into account, it is clear that one can reasonably conclude that the dogs were at the business for the employer’s benefit. As such, the appeals court found that the trial court erred in finding in favor of the defendants.
Have You Suffered Injuries Because of a Dog Bite or Attack
If you or someone you love has suffered serious injuries or died because of a dog attack in Tennessee, contact the Hartsoe Law Firm. The Hartsoe Law Firm provides clients with advocacy and representation following a Tennessee accident. The firm handles claims stemming from car accidents, dog bites, premises liability, and medical malpractice. Attorney Hartsoe has years of experience successfully representing Tennessee accident victims and recovering the compensation they deserve. Contact Mark C. Hartsoe at 865-524-5657 for a free consultation regarding your Tennessee accident case.