When an injury is caused by a dog in Minnesota, issues of responsibility and liability can be complex and attenuated. In our state, liability for these types of injuries is on the owner or harborer unless an exception applies. Provocation is one such exception, it is discussed below.


The State of Minnesota has a strict liability standard for dog bites which was adopted by the legislature in 1951 and revised in 1980 and 1986. This standard is based on common law “scienter action” liability for those that harbor or keep domesticated animals where circumstances make it clear that said animal has dangerous propensities and therefore the common law strict liability standard for keeping or harboring wild animals applies. See Lavalle v. Kaupp, 240 Minn. 360, 61 N.W.2d 228 (1953).


The current version of this statute reads as follows:

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 term "owner" includes any person harboring or keeping a dog but the owner shall be primarily liable. The term "dog" includes both male and female of the canine species.


Minn. Stat. § 347.22 (2018)


There are two exceptions to the application of civil liability under this statute:

  1. “[The injured] person […] is acting peaceably in any place where the person may lawfully be,” or
  2. Provocation.

Id., See also Seim v Garavalia, 306 N.W. 2d 806, 812 (Minn. 1981).  

The courts have been consistent in their application of the first exception, generally “acting peaceably” is interpreted as simply not trespassing. The case law on this exception is sparce, making the analysis of this exception seem fairly straight forward.


The second exception has been the subject of a fair amount of litigation in which the courts have wrangled over whether the common law scienter action rules should apply to intent for the purposes of determining provocation under the statute. Under the statute, as interpreted by the courts, provocation requires a voluntary or volitional act. Bailey v Morris, 323 N.W.2d 785, 787 (Minn. 1982). Here the term voluntary involves “both the plaintiff’s direct knowledge of the danger and that the plaintiff-victim voluntarily exposed herself to that danger.” Engquist v Loyas, 803 N.W.2d 400, 406 (Minn. 2011) (discussing Bailey). This discussion of voluntary comes very close to primary assumption of the risk analysis. The dissent in Bailey notes that such an expansive view allows comparative fault into strict liability where it cannot and does not belong.


As you can see, establishing liability for or defending against a dog caused injury case in Minnesota is a complex and fact-intensive task. If you have been injured by a dog in Minnesota or are facing a legal claim as a result of a dog’s actions, please seek legal help immediately. At JD Haas, we specialize in this area of the law.


This work includes a simplified overview of legal principles only and is not intended to create an attorney client relationship or serve as a substitute for legal advice.