Update: The Minnesota Supreme Court hears argument on this case (see below) today.
Original post (August 20, 2010): If you taunt a dog and get bitten, it should not surprise you that Minnesota law will not permit a recovery under its “dog bite statute.” If you’re walking by a dog, “minding your own business,” and you are bitten, you will recover.
What about if you are playing hide-and-go-seek at a friend’s house, you invite the family dog into your hideaway, you go to hug and pet him (Bruno, a two year-old black lab mix with no criminal history), he growls, you back off, and he attacks, tearing your eye-lid, eyebrow, and puncturing your neck with his claws? Could it be said that you “provoked” the dog’s attack?
Whether that is provocation would depend on your definition of provocation, of course. The act of reaching out to hug and pet the dog was voluntary, of course. Given how the trial court defined “provocation” in the Chisago County District Court case of Engquist v. Loyas, the jury concluded that nine year-old Amber Engquist “provoked” Bruno and she and her family lost the case on that basis.
In a published decision reviewing various states’ analyses of “provocation analysis” in dog-bite cases, the Minnesota Court of Appeals (Kalitowski, Wright, Bjorkman, in an opinion by Kalitowski) reversed the district court on the jury instruction as to what constitutes “provocation” under the Minnesota dog-bite statute.
However, the Minnesota Court of Appeals decision surely did not give plaintiffs full cause for celebration. The jury found that Amber Engquist “provoked” Bruno but also went on to make a finding as to her damages from the accident. The Court of Appeals decision affirmed the jury’s damages finding totaling $24,419.21 (for past and future medical costs ($9,419.21) compensation for past pain, disability, disfigurement, and emotional distress ($15,000), zero for future pain, disability, disfigurement, and emotional distress); plaintiffs clearly thought those awarded damages were insufficient and that the jury simply got that wrong.