Minnesota Dog-Bite Laws

Learn about Minnesota dog owners' liability, the deadline for filing a dog-bite lawsuit in state court, and more.

By , J.D. · University of Michigan Law School
Updated by Charles Crain, Attorney · UC Berkeley School of Law

Minnesota places significant responsibilities on dog owners. If a dog hurts someone in the state, then its owner is liable for the injured person's medical expenses and other losses. There are a few exceptions to this general rule--for example, a trespasser or someone who provokes a dog will not be entitled to compensation from the owner. But it's the owner's obligation to prove that one of these exceptions applies. If you own a dog in Minnesota, or you've been injured by someone else's pet, it's important to understand what state law means for your situation.

Strict Liability for Minnesota Dog Owners

Under Minnesota law, if a dog attacks or injures someone then its owner is liable for all of the victim's damages. Damages can include direct financial losses like medical bills, as well as non-economic harms like pain and suffering.

This rule imposes "strict liability" on Minnesota dog owners. Strict liability means a victim can recover damages from the dog's owner without having to prove that the owner knew their dog was dangerous, or that the owner did something irresponsible that allowed the attack to happen.

Statutes like Minnesota's are sometimes called "dog-bite" laws. But it's important to keep in mind that, under Minnesota law, owners are liable for any injuries caused by their pets. For example, a dog jumps on someone and knocks them down, that person could seek damages for their injuries just like they could if they'd been bitten.

Owners can also be liable even if their dog was under someone else's care at the time of the attack. For example, if a dog bites someone while being walked by a pet sitter, the victim could pursue a case against the owner just as if the owner had been walking the animal. Keep in mind, though, that Minnesota's strict liability rule doesn't apply if a dog hurts someone (like a pet sitter or groomer) who has agreed to care for it. (Victims in this situation might still be able to receive compensation through a negligence lawsuit; we'll discuss that more below.)

(Minn. Stat. § 347.22 (2023); Seim v. Garavalia, 306 N.W.2d 806 (Minn. 1981); Oldenhof v. Hansen, A17-1859 (Minn. Ct. App. Jun. 18, 2018))

Defenses for Minnesota Dog Owners

Minnesota limits the defenses available to dog owners. But the state's dog-injury law does say that owners can only be held legally responsible for someone's injuries if that person:

  • was lawfully in the place where the attack occurred
  • was "acting peaceably," and
  • did not provoke the dog.

The victim must have been "acting peaceably." Minnesota's courts haven't defined what it means to act peaceably. But this requirement could allow an owner to avoid liability if their dog attacks someone who is acting violently or engaged in some other dangerous behavior.

An owners can argue that the victim provoked their dog. A Minnesota owner is not required to pay damages to someone who provoked their dog. In some situations provocation can mean that the person was intentionally trying to hurt or annoy the animal.

But sometimes behavior can be a provocation even if it's not intended to bother the dog. The key question is whether the person intentionally did something that they know might cause the dog to try to harm them. For example, if someone knows that a dog has a tendency to bite people who try to touch it, it would probably be considered a provocation if they walked up to the animal and tried to pet it.

An owner can argue that the victim was trespassing. Minnesota's dog-injury law only applies if the victim was "lawfully" in the place where they were attacked. This requirement means that an owner isn't strictly liable if their dog hurts a trespasser, because a trespasser has no legal right to be on the owner's property. But keep in mind that there are important limits to this defense. First, it doesn't apply to guests or to people like mail carriers who have a legal reason to be on private property. Second, as we'll discuss below, even a trespasser may be able to sue an owner for negligence in certain situations.

(Minn. Stat. § 347.22 (2023); Engquist v. Loyas, 803 N.W.2d 400 (Minn. 2011)).

Owners Can Sometimes Be Liable for Negligence

Even when Minnesota's strict liability statue does not apply, it's possible that a victim could still be held responsible for negligence. Minnesota's rule for negligence is a version of the so-called "one-bite" rule, which requires owners to take special care if they know that their pet might be dangerous. This rule can come into play in at least three situations.

A dog indirectly causes a victim's injuries. Owners cannot be held strictly liable if there's not a direct connection between the dog's behavior and the victim's injuries. If too many other factors contributed to the incident, strict liability does not apply. The Minnesota Supreme Court created this rule in a case where a driver ran someone over because she was distracted by a dog's unruly behavior. The driver was pet-sitting for the dog's owners, and the owners had not told the pet-sitter that the dog needed to be restrained while in the car. The court decided that strict liability did not apply. But it also ruled that the owners might have been negligent for faiing to warn the pet sitter about their dog's potentially dangerous behavior.

A dog hurts someone who has agreed to care for it. Owners can also be sued for negligence if their dog hurts someone who has taken responsibility for the animal, like a pet sitter, a groomer, or a dog walker. These people cannot recover under the state's strict liability rule, because under Minnesota law they have assumed some risk that they might be hurt by the animals they work with. But an owner is still obligated to warn people caring for their pet if the animal has any unusually dangerous tendencies. For example, an owner might be negligent for failing to tell a groomer that their dog had nipped at or bitten its previous groomer.

A dog hurts a child who comes onto the owner's property. Under Minnesota law, even a young child will be categorized as a trespasser if they come onto someone's property without permission. So the state's strict liability rule does not apply if a child wanders onto private property and is hurt by the owner's dog. But property owners can be sued for negligence if they:

  • know of a danger on their property (including a vicious dog), and
  • don't take reasonable steps to keep children away from that danger.

(Clark v. Connor, 843 N.W.2d 785 (Minn. Ct. App. 2014); Matson v. Kivimaki, 294 Minn. 140, 200 N.W.2d 164 (1972); Oldenhof v. Hansen, A17-1859 (Minn. Ct. App. (Jun. 18, 2018).)

Deadlines for Filing a Lawsuit

Minnesota's statute of limitations for personal injury cases gives dog-attack victims two years of the date of their injury to file a lawsuit in state court. If you miss this deadline, your case will almost certainly be thrown out of court even if you have a good argument that the dog owner should be held liable. There are very rare exceptions to this rule. But a plaintiff is always better off meeting the deadline, rather than having to make the difficult argument that they're one of the few people who's entitled to more time.

(Minn. Stat. § 541.07 (2023).)

Criminal Penalties and Rules for Dangerous Dogs in Minnesota

In addition to its rules for civil lawsuits, Minnesota has public safety laws designed to protect the public from dangerous and potentially dangerous dogs.

When Dogs Can Be Declared Dangerous or Potentially Dangerous

A potentially dangerous dog is one that has bitten or chased a person, or that has a tendency to attack or endanger people.

A dangerous dog is one that has seriously injured a person, or killed a domestic animal while off its owner's property. A dog will also be deemed dangerous if it has already been declared potentially dangerous, and continues to attack or threaten people.

Before a dog is declared dangerous or potentially dangerous, its owner has a right to attend a hearing where they can argue on behalf of their pet. Just like in a civil lawsuit, an owner can defend their dog by arguing that its behavior was provoked.

Requirements for Owners of Dangerous and Potentially Dangerous Dogs

If a dog is declared dangerous or potentially dangerous, requirements will be imposed on its owner. For example, if a dog has been deemed dangerous then:

  • the owner must buy insurance to cover the costs of any future attack
  • the dog must be restrained either inside a secure enclosure, or with a muzzle and a strong leash
  • the owner must have the dog microchipped for identification purposes, and
  • the owner must identify the dog as dangerous with special tags and with signs on their property

Owners who fail to comply with these requirements risk criminal penalties and the confiscation of their dog. A dog could also be euthanized if its owner fails to comply with these requirements. A dog can also be euthanized if it has committed a very serious attack on a person (for example, an attack that caused serious injuries, or an attack where it inflicted multiple bites).

(Minn. Stat. §§ 347.50-565 (2023).)

Next Steps in Your Minnesota Dog-Injury Case

Both dog owners and dog-attack victims should know how Minnesota law applies to them. If you've been hurt by a dog, or someone has accused your pet of an attack, you may want to speak with an attorney who has experience handling these kinds of cases. A good lawyer will be able to help you understand your legal options and decide on next steps.

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