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Chapter 4: Animal Control Officer’s Rule

§4.1 Generally

The Case: Jamison v. Ulrich , 206 S.W.3d 419 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2006).

The Basic Facts: Plaintiff was an animal control officer with Animal Services Division of the City of Chattanooga Police Department. Plaintiff went to Defendant's home to take possession of their Doberman pinscher. Upon doing so, the dog bit the officer, causing injuries.

The Bottom Line:

  • "The issue presented in this case is whether the policemen and firemen's rule applies to an animal control officer who was bitten by a Doberman pinscher while performing the duties of his employment." 206 S.W.3d at 419.
  • "The policemen and firemen's rule precludes firefighters and police officers from recovering damages for injuries arising out of risks peculiar to their employment. This rule was first adopted in Tennessee in the 1915 decision of Burroughs Adding Machine Co. v. Fryar, 179 S.W. 127 (Tenn. 1915) (a police officer injured as a result of a business owner's negligence could not recover damages). The rule was most recently reaffirmed by the Tennessee Supreme Court in Carson v. Headrick, 900 S.W.2d 685 (Tenn. 1995), wherein the Court ruled that sound public policy considerations supported the continuation of the rule based on the nature of the duty of police officers and the relationship between the officers and the public they protect." Id. at 422.
  • "Officer Jamison seeks to differentiate an animal control officer from a policeman or a fireman. He contends that the policemen and firemen's rule referenced by the trial court does not apply to an animal control officer who, in the course and scope of his employment, is bitten by a dog." Id.
  • "Officer Jamison offers no persuasive reason for distinguishing between police officers and animal control officers with respect to applicability of the policemen and firemen's rule and the duty the public should bear to individuals employed in those positions. He states that police departments are maintained in 'anticipation of those inevitable physical perils that burden the human condition, whereas most public employment posts are created not to confront danger that will arise but to perform some other public function that may incidentally involve risk,' and he notes that the position of animal control officer 'may involve some risk but it is not one whereby he is called upon to constantly confront danger.'" Id. at 424.
  • "We agree that most public employment posts are not created to confront danger. We do not necessarily disagree that policemen and firemen are called upon to confront danger more frequently than are animal control officers. However, in our view, the salient question is whether the danger encountered by the employee is a danger that can be reasonably expected given the nature of the position of employment. While it is reasonable for a secretary employed in the mayor's office to expect that he or she will not be confronted with physical danger, an animal control officer cannot maintain the same expectation. Officer Jamison's job, as the title 'animal control officer' itself implies, is to exert control over animals that are out of control in one sense or another. In fulfilling the duties of his job, Officer Jamison must anticipate that he will, from time to time, be exposed to aggressive animals that are capable of inflicting the sort of injuries he sustained in this case. Although it is not reasonable to expect that an animal control officer will confront the same dangers that a police officer typically confronts, it is reasonable to expect that he will confront the danger of being bitten by an aggressive animal. It is not disputed that, as a graduate of the Chattanooga Police Department's Animal Services Division Academy, Officer Jamison has received special training to deal appropriately with that very danger, just as a police officer has received training to deal with the dangers he or she is likely to encounter." Id. at 424-25.
  • "The same public policy consideration noted by the Court in Carson dictates that animal control officers be precluded from filing negligence actions against the citizenry for injuries arising out of risks peculiar to their employment. In part at least, animal control officers are employed to preserve public safety by subduing animals that pose a threat of harm. As in matters necessitating the involvement of a police officer, public policy is served when a citizen is encouraged to summon an animal control officer for aid, regardless of the citizen's negligence, and when it is assured that any injuries sustained by the animal control officer in the line of duty will be borne by the public as a whole." Id. at 425.
  • "We note that in Carson, the Tennessee Supreme Court adopted an exception to the policemen and firemen's rule that allowed recovery for a policeman or firefighter who is injured by the intentional, malicious, or reckless acts of a citizen. It is our opinion that the exception to the policemen and firemen's rule also applies to animal control officers. However, the exception does not apply in this case because the record contains no evidence of any intentional, malicious or reckless acts." Id.

After an accident, many injury victims and their families want more information on the accident and their legal rights. Consequently, many of them have found their way to these pages. While we are happy you are here, please understand Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law was written to be a quick, invaluable reference for Tennessee tort lawyers. While the book provides the leading case for more than 300 tort law subjects and thousands of related case citations, it is not a substitute for personalized legal advice from a qualified lawyer.

Rather than researching these legal issues alone, we urge you to contact one of our award-winning lawyers who can sit down with you, review your case, answer your questions and clearly explain your rights and your options in a no-cost, no-obligation consultation. Our experienced attorneys handle all personal injury and wrongful death cases on a contingency basis, so we only get paid if we win. If for any reason you are unable to come to our office, we will gladly come to you.

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The foregoing is an excerpt from Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law, published by John A. Day, Civil Trial Specialist, Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, recipient of Best Lawyers in America recognition, Martindale-Hubbell AV® Preeminent™ rated attorney, and Top 100 Tennessee Mid-South Super Lawyers designee. Read John’s full bio here.

To order a copy of the book, visit www.dayontortsbook.com. John also blogs regularly on key issues for tort lawyers. To subscribe to the Day on Torts blog, visit www.dayontorts.com.

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