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Minnesota Dog Bite Law

Author / Coordinator: Statute
March 2007

The Minnesota dog bite law is one of the most favorable to dog bite victims. It actually covers both bites and other injuries, and applies not only to the owner of the attacking dog but also the person who harbors or keeps the dog.

Minn. Stat. Ann. sec. 347.22: Damages, owner liable.

If a dog, without provocation, attacks or injures any person who is acting peaceably in any place where the person may lawfully be, the owner of the dog is liable in damages to the person so attacked or injured to the full amount of the injury sustained. The term "owner" includes any person harboring or keeping a dog but the owner shall be primarily liable.  The term "dog" includes both male and female of the canine species.

Legal Rights of a Rescuer

It is legal to defend another person or yourself from a dog attack. When a person is injured while rescuing or defending another person or pet from a dog attack, the owner of the attacking dog is liable (responsible) for all of the resulting injuries, damages and losses. This falls under the legal principle called the “Rescue Doctrine.” The defenses of assumption of risk, comparative negligence and contributory negligence are generally not available.

Where a person has negligently managed his own person, he is liable for all of the foreseeable consequences. One such foreseeable consequence is injury to a rescuer. It has been famously noted that "[danger invites rescue." (Justice Cardozo in Wagner v. International Ry. Co. (1921) 232 NY 176, 180, 133 NE 437, 437.). Generally, where an actor puts himself or others in danger, it is foreseeable that a person will attempt to rescue those placed in danger. "Accordingly, although the rescuer may be said to have willingly exposed himself to the danger, such an act does not eliminate or excuse the culpability created by the actor’s negligence." (Sears v. Morrison, 1999 Daily Journal DAR 11991, 12/1/1999.) Sears held that, absent entirely reckless conduct, a rescuer is not deemed to have brought the injury upon himself under Civil Code section 1714 (Sears, supra, at page 11992.).

"Every one is responsible, not only for the result of his willful acts, but also for an injury occasioned to another by his want of ordinary care or skill in the management of his property or person, except so far as the later has, willfully or by want of ordinary care, brought the injury upon himself."

The Supreme Court stated:

"One generally owes a duty of care to bystanders who attempt a rescue that becomes necessary due to one’s own negligence. Thus, although it is contributory negligence unreasonably to expose oneself to a risk created by the defendant’s negligence [citations], a person is not contributorily negligent who, with due care, encounters the risk created by the defendant’s negligence in order to perform a rescue necessitated by that negligence." Neighbarger v. Irwin Industries, Inc. (1994) 8 Cal.4th 532, 536-537.)

The Restatement of Torts gives an example of a rescuer intervening to prevent injury to another person:

"A car negligently driven by A endangers B, a child in the highway. C, a bystander, dashes out to rescue the child, and is struck and injured by A’s car. A is subject to liability to C." (Restatement Second, Torts (1965), Legal Cause, section 443, comment (d), illustration 4, page 474.)

The rescue doctrine also applies to a pet owner who is injured when he attempts to prevent a dog from attacking his pet. Pets often are considered to be property in the eyes of the law. The Restatement makes clear that the rescue doctrine applies not only to people, but to land and "chattels" — the legal word for property like pets:

"If the actor’s negligent conduct threatens harm to another’s person, land or chattels, the normal efforts of the other or a third person to avert the threatened harm are not a superseding cause of harm resulting from such efforts." (Id., section 445, page 475.)

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