Despite being “man’s best friend,” dogs are responsible for the majority of animal-related injuries in the United States. Every year, about 4.5 million individuals are attacked by dogs—most of them children. Statistically, it’s more likely that you’ll be bitten by a dog in your lifetime than suffer a heart attack, stroke, or cancer diagnosis.
Canine attacks can cause serious damage. Last year, about 750,000 people were treated for dog bites in U.S. hospitals. Dog bite victims are often left with severe mental trauma like PTSD, injury (and sometimes permanent disability), and steep financial damages for hospital bills, medical care costs, mental health counseling, lost wages, and more.
Who’s responsible for those losses when another person’s dog attacks you or a loved one?
Financial and legal responsibility for a dog bite injury is determined by state law. Below, we’ll examine the Mississippi dog bite laws that dictate your legal options following an animal attack in our state.
Dog Bite Laws in Mississippi
Mississippi dog bite laws are notably less explicit than many other states when it comes to owner liability. While many other states have laws that expressly state the circumstances under which a dog owner is negligent for harm caused by their animal, Mississippi does not have a specific statute with such detail.
Therefore, victims injured by dog bites in Mississippi usually must prove that the owner was negligent or that the owner has previous knowledge of the dog’s propensity to attack (the “one bite rule”).
A dog bite case is often categorized as a premises liability case or an injury case that happens on another person’s property. If, for example, your child is attacked by a dog while your family is visiting a neighbor’s house, you may be able to hold the property owner responsible for injuries—if it can be shown that the owner failed to act in a reasonable manner to protect your family from harm.
Similarly, if a dog owner is found to be in violation of a leash law, trespassing law, or other state or local statute governing the control of animal behavior, it may be determined that the owner was negligent in their duty to protect others. One example of this might be if an owner allows their dog to run loose at a local park, leaving the dog free to attack an adult or child who is patronizing public park grounds.
What Is the One Bite Rule in Mississippi?
Because Mississippi has no direct dog bite laws, most cases in the state fall under what is known as the “one bite rule.” This rule, also called the “first bite rule” or “one free bite rule,” is a legal doctrine that essentially gives dog owners one “free pass.” It means that if a dog has never bitten anyone before, the owner cannot be held liable because they cannot reasonably be expected to know that their dog will bite another person.
This is a very old law, dating back to English Common Law. Most states already have statutes in place that hold dog owners liable for damage caused by their animal, even if it is the first time the dog has attacked another person.
The logic behind implementing updated dog bite laws is that it’s never acceptable for a dog to bite anyone—even once. If a dog attacks someone and injures them to the point that they lose function of a limb, it’s not right that the victim should bear sole financial responsibility for the ensuing medical expenses, simply because they were the first person to be attacked by the dog.
More than 30 states already have strict liability laws that hold the owner responsible for a dog attack, regardless of negligence or prior knowledge of the dog’s dangerous disposition.
Mississippi does not have strict liability laws for dog bites, so lawyers and judges must have a good understanding of how dog bite cases have been handled by state courts in the past. The most famous case setting a precedent for Mississippi dog bite cases is the 1973 case Poy v. Grayson, in which a garbage collector was attacked by a six-month-old dog while performing job duties.
Through this case, the Mississippi Supreme Court gave some precision to how liability can be proven in a dog bite case, stipulating that the plaintiff should be able to demonstrate that:
- The dog had a vicious or dangerous disposition
- The owner knew about the dog’s dangerous or vicious nature (often because the animal had attacked someone before)
- The owner knew (or reasonably should have known) the dog may attack someone
Evidence That Can Be Used in a Mississippi Dog Bite Case
Since it is the responsibility of the plaintiff (the party taking legal action against the defendant) to prove negligence or knowledge of the dog’s propensity to bite, there must be strong evidence for a case to be successful.
Examples of the type of evidence that can help prove a dog bite injury case include:
- Photos or video of the injury and circumstances under which it occurred
- Medical bills for treatment of the injury
- Pay stubs and other proof evidencing the victim’s missed work time and wages
- Evidence of lifestyle changes resulting from the injury or disability
- Proof that the dog had attacked someone in the past (such as witness testimony and accompanying evidence)
- Proof of the dog’s vicious nature (such as witness statements from neighbors, friends, breeders, or veterinary office staff who have interacted with the dog)
What To Do After a Dog Bite Injury
If you, a child, or another family member was attacked by a dog, it is important to act quickly. Dog bites can cause serious immediate harm and can also lead to the development of diseases and infections if not treated properly.
After a dog attack, take the following actions to the best of your ability:
- Stop any bleeding with direct pressure and perform temporary first aid measures until medical help can be reached
- Go to the emergency room or call 911 for severe injuries
- Get the dog owner’s name and contact information
- Take pictures of the attack scene and injuries
- Contact an attorney who handles Mississippi dog bite injury cases
Schedule a Free Consultation To Learn if You Have a Dog Bite Case
Although Mississippi dog bite laws can be complex and difficult to interpret, a skilled and experienced legal representative will be able to help you make sure you obtain the justice you deserve.
To learn more about your legal rights after an animal attack, contact Pittman Roberts & Welsh, PLLC for a free consultation. There is no charge to learn if you have grounds to file a dog bite claim against a pet owner in Mississippi.