You’re walking your small dog, Tuffy, down the street when a dog named Bruno runs out of a house, picks up Tuffy in his jaws and won’t let go. While you try to free Tuffy, you fall and break your hip.
Are Tuffy’s owners liable for damages?
The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled a definite “maybe” today when it reinstated a case a district court threw out. Gordon Anderson, Tuffy’s owner, sued Dennis Christopherson and his son, who were in charge of Bruno
In throwing the case out, a District Court ruled that Minnesota law shields a dog owner from liability if the dog isn’t focused on the person who was injured. In this case, the lower court said, Bruno was only interested in hurting Tuffy, not Tuffy’s owner.
The state law reads:
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 Court of Appeals, however, cited a Minnesota Supreme Court case in which a nine-year old boy was killed when a dog riding in a car distracted a driver, who ran off the road, killing him. In that case — Lewellin v. Huber — the high court overruled a lower court that ruled the dog’s owners were liable for the boy’s death. But the Supreme Court declined to address the issue of whether actual physical contact between the dog and an injured person is required for the statute above to apply.
In Tuffy v. Bruno (actually called Anderson v. Christopherson), the Court of Appeals said only a jury can answer the question. “It is possible that a jury could conclude that (Tuffy’s owner’s) decision to intervene in a dog fight interrupted the chain of causation wuch that his injury was not a direct and immediate result of Bruno’s action,” the court said.