Minnesota Dog Bite Laws

Minnesota Statute §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.

The statute defines “owner” to include “any person harboring or keeping a dog,” though it provides that “the owner shall be primarily liable.” Minn. Stat. § 347.22.

Minnesota courts have applied the statute in a manner most favorable to dog bite victims. It has been interpreted as an absolute, strict liability statute. Comparative fault is not permitted as a defense. Seim v. Garavalia (Minn. 1981), 306 N.W.2d 806, 810; Lewellin v. Huber, 465 N.W.2d 62 (MI 1991). As the court stated in Lewellin:

[L]iability is absolute. It makes no difference that the dog owner may have used reasonable care; negligence is beside the point. Past good behavior of the dog is irrelevant. Neither the common law affirmative defenses nor statutory comparative fault are available to the defendant dog owner. (The owner does, however, have the defenses of provocation and failure of the injured person to conduct himself peacefully while in a lawful place.) Whoever keeps or harbors the dog is subject to the statutory liability for the “full amount of the injury,” and the dog’s owner remains at all times primarily liable.

Minnesota Statute § 347.22 mandates that an owner is liable to the full amount of the injury sustained if a dog injures any person who is acting peaceably in any place where the person may lawfully be. Case law makes it clear that application of the statute is not limited to vicious attacks. The statute clearly applies to trigger liability when a dog, even without the intent to attack or be vicious, directly causes injury to someone. The Minnesota Court of Appeals in Boitz v. Preblich, 405 N.W.2d 907 (Minn. App. 1987) found that the statute applied when the defendant’s thirty pound Springer Spaniel ran out of the door and down a footpath as the plaintiff was walking. The dog “bumped into the back of his legs” and the plaintiff fell down breaking his wrist.

The Court found that the statute applied even where the dog just bumped into the plaintiff. Again the Court of Appeals demonstrated the breadth of the statute inMorris v. Weatherly, 488 N.W.2d 508 (Minn. App. 1992) when they found that the statute applied when a dog ran at the plaintiff causing him to attempt to dismount off of his bike and resulting in his falling to the ground and tearing his rotator cuff. The Court of Appeals in Morris found the statute applied even though there was no physical contact between the dog and the plaintiff. Finally, in Lewellin, on behalf of heirs of Lewellin v. Huber, 645 N.W.2d 62 (Minn. 1991) the Minnesota Supreme Court addressed the application of the statute when a dog “injures” someone as opposed to “attacks” them. The Minnesota Supreme Court said that the intent of the legislation would cover “when a dog exuberantly jumps upon or unintentionally runs into a person and injures that person”.