Mississippi is a one-bite state.
- Mississippi must change its dog bite laws
- Litigation forms and other materials for attorneys
- If your case involves injury to a dog, see When a Dog Is Injured or Killed
A dog bite victim who is injured in Mississippi must prove either that the dog owner had "scienter" or was negligent.
Negligence is the unreasonable failure to do something or not do something, which results in injury to a person whom the defendant has a duty to not injure. Read more about it at Legal Rights of Dog Bite Victims in the USA.
In this state, legal liability for a dog bite also is based on a violation of a leash law, prohibition against dogs trespassing or running at large, or a similar animal control law. Those violations are forms of negligence.
If none of those things can be proved, then the victim has to base his claim on the ancient and outdated "one bite rule." It is referred to as "scienter" which is the Latin word for "to know." The scienter cause of action requires proof that the dog had the dangerous propensity to bite people, and that the dog owner knew it or should have known it prior to the accident in question.
The leading Mississippi case is Poy v. Grayson, 273 So.2d 491, 494 (Miss. 1973). The state supreme court held that "there [must] be some proof that the animal has exhibited some dangerous propensity or disposition prior to the attack complained of, and, moreover, it must be shown that the owner knew or reasonably should have known of this propensity or disposition and knew or reasonably should have foreseen that the animal was likely to attack someone." (Id.) Thus, when a dog previously has bitten someone, and the dog owner or harborer is aware of the same, the "one bite rule" makes him or her liable for subsequent bites by the same dog.
When it comes to the civil dog bite laws, there is a certain, obvious illogic in Mississippi. This state is adhering to ancient English courts that ruled that "every dog gets one free bite." This "one-bite rule" was announced centuries ago, in pastoral Britain, when dogs, hogs, mules and sheep wandered aimlessly through towns, as a normal part of life. In those long-gone days, the judges of Charles Dickens' time announced that the owner of a domestic animal would not be held liable unless and until it bit someone first. There was no need for people to be vigilent about their animals because the law did not require people to take any level of responsibility until a tragedy first occured.
Those days, however, are long gone. In modern America, our ideas about personal responsibility are far different. We believe that every one of us must be responsible for the harm that we might cause, and that might be caused by our things, our employees and our children, under our "watch."
Mississippi dog bite laws tell the people that it is okay for their dog to bite someone, once. That they are not responsible for it. That there is no consequence when it happens. That they can look the other way. Shrug it off. Forget about it.
That is because Mississippi is following an ancient English rule of law that is out of touch with American ideals and has been rejected by a majority of American states. In most states and the District of Columbia, there is a law that either wholly or partially supplants the "one bite rule," imposing strict liability on dog owners for dog bites, including the first bite. There is no "free bite" in those states and the DC. (See Legal Rights of a Dog Bite Victim, which contains links to the dog bite statutes throughout the USA.)
Shouldn't every bite have consequences? Every victim is required to suffer, every medical bill must be paid, every ambulance company sends out its invoice, every pharmacy has a cash register. If dog owners know that there will be consequences for every bite, then they will be less inclined to permit their dogs to roam, and there will be fewer injuries.
The one bite rule needs to be repealed in Mississippi. It needs to be replaced with a law that makes every dog owner, keeper or harborer legally liable for any and all injuries caused by his or her dog, other than injuries that result from provocation or are inflicted upon a trespasser.
In 2007, Attorney Kenneth Phillips (the author of Dog Bite Law) assisted in the drafting of laws for the State of Tennessee which, if signed into law, will repeal the one-bite rule in that state. The same can be done for the State of Mississippi, upon request of the legislature.