Punitive damages are meant to punish a dog owner for extremely bad behavior or gross negligence. For example, if the animal had a history of biting people and the owner let it run off leash, there would be a claim for punitive damages by anyone who was bitten or otherwise injured. In Minnesota, there are special rules, §549.191 and §549.120.
These damages are meant to punish behavior as a deterrent to future, similar behavior. They are awarded where compensatory damages (money for loss of income, medical expenses, pain and suffering, disfigurement) are deemed an inadequate remedy.
Proving a Punitive Damages Claim
In Minnesota, the attorney would claim that the conduct of the owner could lead a reasonable person to believe that the he or she acted with deliberate disregard for the rights and safety of others by handling, raising, keeping, caring for, or failing to restrain the dog.
The following are some situations that may lead to an award for punitive damages:
- The owner specifically trained the dog to randomly attack people.
- It had bitten or otherwise attacked someone in the past.
- It was known to be extremely aggressive.
We analyze each case to determine if there is a punitive damages claim. We also look for multiple parties to sue. For example, if the bite happened in Petsmart, a pet supply store, both the owner and Petsmart may be liable (legally responsible).