This blog has closely followed the saga of Amber Engquist, the 9-year old who was attacked by her friend’s black lab. Amber had reached out to hug Bruno. When Bruno growled, Amber backed away. That’s when Bruno attacked. As Amber’s case wound its way through Minnesota’s court system, the same question has persisted: Did Amber provoke the dog? In Engquist v. Loyas, the Minnesota Supreme Court has finally given its answer.
This case turned entirely on what the word “provocation” means in Minnesota’s dog-bite law. Minnesota’s dog-bite statute provides:
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.
Under the statute, Amber should fully recover for her injuries, unless she provoked the dog, in which case she gets nothing.
At trial, the jury concluded that Amber had provoked the dog. But, the jury’s decision was based on the trial court’s definition of “provocation.” The Minnesota Supreme Court held that the trial court’s definition was wrong, so now Amber gets a new trial.
How will the new jury decide whether Amber provoked Bruno? According to the Minnesota Supreme Court, a dog-bite victim provokes a dog when they have direct knowledge that the dog poses a danger and they nonetheless voluntarily expose themselves to that danger.
Where Bruno had never attacked before, it’s very hard to imagine that little Amber (or anyone else, for that matter) knew that giving Bruno a hug might cause him to attack. We’ll have to wait and see what the new jury thinks.
Rob Shainess is a Minnesota personal injury lawyer practicing in St. Louis Park, MN. Rob owns a very small dog that never bites.