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Engquist v. Loyas - 803 N.W.2d 400 (Minn. 2011)

Rule:

A dog owner's liability under Minn. Stat. § 347.22 (2010) is absolute, subject to the requirements of the statute and the defense of provocation. Absolute liability under the statute does not require negligence on the part of the dog owner, and is not barred by the contributory negligence of the plaintiff-victim. But a plaintiff-victim is not entitled to recover for a dog attack that is the result of provocation within the meaning of the statute. Provocation under the statute has a narrower meaning than contributory negligence. Specifically, a plaintiff-victim who voluntarily and unnecessarily provokes a dog in a manner that invites a dog attack is not entitled to recover. It is not necessary that the plaintiff-victim intend to provoke the dog. Rather, provocation involves voluntary conduct that exposes the person to a risk of harm from the dog, where the person had knowledge of the risk at the time of the incident. The question of whether a dog was provoked within the meaning of the statute in a given case is primarily a question of fact for the jury. 

Facts:

Respondent Jill Engquist, as parent and natural guardian of the minor, Amber Engquist, commenced an action under Minn. Stat. § 347.22 (2010) for injuries Amber sustained as a result of a dog bite that occurred at the residence of appellants, Steven and Christina Loyas. The jury found that Amber provoked the dog to bite her, and the district court entered judgment in favor of appellants. The court of appeals reversed on the ground that the jury instruction given by the district court misstated the meaning of provocation under the statute, and remanded for a new trial.

Issue:

Did the court of appeals err by concluding that the jury instruction on provocation under Minn. Stat. § 347.22 (2010) materially misstated the law?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court held that dog owners' liability under the statute was absolute, subject to the requirements of the statute and the defense of provocation. Absolute liability under the statute did not require negligence on the part of the dog owner, and was not barred by the contributory negligence of the plaintiff-victim. But a plaintiff-victim was not entitled to recover for a dog attack that was the result of provocation within the meaning of the statute. Provocation had a narrower meaning than contributory negligence. Specifically, a plaintiff who voluntarily and unnecessarily provoked a dog in a manner that invited attack was not entitled to recover. It was not necessary that the plaintiff intended to provoke the dog. Rather, provocation involved voluntary conduct that exposed the person to a risk of harm from the dog, where the person had knowledge of the risk at the time of the incident.

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