The Minnesota Supreme Court issued a ruling this week regarding the Minnesota dog owner’s liability statute, Minn. Stat. § 347.22 (2010). The ruling looked at two issues:
1. Does a person injured indirectly from a dog attack have a claim against the owner of the dog under the dog owner’s liability statute, Minn. Stat. § 347.22 (2010)?
2. What does it mean to “harbor” a dog under Minn. Stat. § 347.22 and thereby be liable to someone injured as a result of a dog attack?
Facts of the Case
The dog attack victim (Plaintiff) lived in Andover with his dog, a 20-pound miniature schnauzer named Tuffy. He was walking with Tuffy on a leash on Kiowa Street NW in Andover. During this walk, a larger dog weighing approximately 50 pounds named Bruno ran out from the house across the street and bit Tuffy in the stomach. Tuffy’s owner, the dog attack victim, attempted to separate the dogs and may have kicked Bruno in the process of doing so. While trying to separate the two dogs, he fell and broke his hip. Although the duration of the entire incident was short—less than 20 seconds or so—Bruno did not release Tuffy until someone came out of the house and took control of Bruno.
The dog owner was visiting his parents’ house in Andover. The parents were not at the house but had given the dog owner permission for him and Bruno to stay in the house. Plaintiff sued both the owner of the dog and his father (the owner of the house), collectively referred to as Defendents.
Issue 1: Does a person injured indirectly from a dog attack have a claim against the owner of the dog under Minnesota law?
To decide this issue the Court had to construe Minn. Stat. § 347.22, the Minnesota dog owner’s liability statute:
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 had previously held the following:
- That the dog owner’s liability statute imposes absolute liability on any dog owner whose dog “attacks or injures” another;
- That a dog “attacks” when it “ move[s] against with more or less violent intent, implying aggressiveness in any sense and the initiative in the onset” (for example, a dog bite);
- That a dog “injures” when its “affirmative but nonattacking behavior which injures a person who is immediately implicated by such nonhostile behavior” (for example, a dog jumping on a person in a friendly manner);
- That a dog injures a person when that the dog’s actions constitute an affirmative act that injures someone immediately implicated by the act, and that the act be the proximate cause of the injuries.
The Court rejected an Appellate Court interpretation of the dog owner liability law that required the person suing to have been the focus of the dog’s conduct. Instead, the Court concluded that a dog owner may be held strictly liable for injuries caused by a dog’s affirmative conduct regardless of the focus of that conduct. As to the facts above, the Court found that whether Bruno’s attack on Tuffy caused the Plaintiff’s injuries was a matter of fact and denied the Defendants’ summary motion.
Issue 2: What does it mean to “harbor” a dog under Minn. Stat. § 347.22?
Under Minnesota law the “owner of the dog” is liable for damages to the person attacked or injured. The law further defines “owner” as “any person harboring or keeping a dog.” A person “harboring” a dog is a person who affords lodging, shelters, or gives refuge to a dog for a limited purpose or time. However, harboring must involve “something more than a meal of mercy to a stray dog or the casual presence of a dog on someone’s premises.”
In a previous decision, the Court had stated that letting a person with a dog stay one’s house, even if one is on vacation, is “harboring” for purposes of the dog liability law. The case decided this week is a little different than that because the father of Bruno’s owner owned the house but did not live there. The Court determined, however, that a jury could reasonably conclude that the owner of the house (the father) was affording lodging, providing shelter, or giving refuge to Bruno by allowing his son to keep Bruno at his house. Again, the court of appeals decision on this issue was affirmed.
Read the full Minnesota Supreme Court Decision here.
Our Attorneys Can Help You and Your Family after a Dog Attack in Minnesota
Get your free consultation with an attorney today and don’t pay any fee until we win you money. Home owners insurance covers injuries caused by the owner’s dog. Our Minnesota dog bite attorneys represent dog attack victims and their families throughout Minnesota, including in the following cities: Twin Cities, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Bloomington, Eagan, Eden Prarie, Apple Valley, Maple Grove, Edina, Plymouth, Minnetonka, Stillwater, Woodbury, Maplewood, Golden Valley, Shoreview, Blaine, Anoka, South St. Paul, White Bear Lake, Roseville, St. Cloud, Arden Hills, Brooklyn Park, Forest Lake.