Mississippi Insurance-Related Law — An A to Z GuideAnimalsDomestic AnimalsMississippi follows what is referred to as the “one free bite” rule. If you did not know that your dog would bite someone, you are not responsible for that first injury. Once you know (or should know) that your pet is likely to bite someone, you are responsible for taking reasonable care to prevent injury. Further, all that is required is actual or constructive knowledge of a dangerous propensity, which can be much less than an actual bite. The injury can be less than a bite as well, such as scratching or being knocked over. There must be some proof that the domestic animal has exhibited some dangerous propensity or disposition prior to the complained of incident, that the owner knew or should have known of this propensity or disposition, and that the owner should have foreseen that the animal was likely to injure someone. Poy v. Grayson, 273 So. 2d 491, 494 (Miss. 1973). An aggressively growling dog that also chases people is enough to create a jury question of whether there was notice of its dangerous propensity. Mongeaon v. A&V Enterprises, Inc., 733 So. 2d 170 (Miss. 1997). However, barking is not considered a propensity separate from its natural inclinations. Poy v. Grayson, 273 So. 2d 491 (Miss. 1973), recently discussed in Ringo v. Wilson, 2016WL612093 (Feb. 16, 2016). However, the “one-free bite” rule may not apply when the type of animal involved has inherent characteristics that place the premises owner on notice of a dangerous propensity. Olier v. Bailey, 2015 WL 1611772 (Miss. 2015). Olier involved a goose who gave chase to a guest who fell when attempting to flee an attacking goose. The particular goose had not previously attacked anyone. The court, however, found that geese in general have such a propensity such that a premises owner should have known there was some likelihood that it might attack guests. Some breeds of dogs (i.e. pit bulls) may be considered to have inherently dangerous propensities. Livestock (Horses, Cows, etc.)There is a presumption of negligence against the owner of livestock loose on a federal or state highway or highway rights-of-way which cause damage to property. This presumption does not apply to county roads. The burden is on the owner to show that he was not negligent, see Miss. Code Ann. § 69-13-111, for example, by showing that his fence was in good repair and that he regularly and properly maintained it. Strict liability applies to trespassing livestock. See Miss. Code Ann. § 69-13-19. For example, if a livestock owner’s cow or horse eats or tramples the crops on the property of another, liability will be automatic. Non-Domestic (Wild) AnimalsOwners of wild animals are strictly liable for the personal injury caused by them. Byrnes v. City of Jackson, 140 Miss. 656, 105 So. 861, 863 (1925). For example, an owner would be strictly liable for the injury caused by their pet black bear even if the bear was not known to have a dangerous propensity. AssignmentsMississippi law allows for the assignment of personal claims, including injury claims. Miss. Code Ann. § 11-7-3. Wrongful death claims, however, are not assignable. Coleman Powermate, Inc. v. Rheem Manufacturing Co., 880 So. 2d 329 (Miss. 2004). Only those individuals listed in the wrongful death statute can bring a wrongful death cause of action. Id. There is no hospital or medical lien statute in Mississippi (except as to providers of burn care). However, a valid assignment of a person’s right to recover for medical expenses to a medical provider is enforceable. NOTE: Pay close attention to the language of the assignment. Some purported assignments are only agreements by the patient to remit payments from insurance to the medical provider and are not actual assignments of the patient’s right of action. Keep in mind that parents and guardians cannot assign the rights or benefits due to a minor child, unless the agreement is approved by a Chancery Court. Mississippi recently enacted an amendment to the Health Insurance statutes, §§ 83-9-3, and 83-9-5, to prevent any health insurance policy from containing provisions that restrict an insured from assigning benefits to a health care provider. In addition, the statute permits an insured to provide the health insurance carrier with a written directive to pay the health care provider all or a portion of the policy benefits that have been so assigned. These new amendments to the statutes became effective July 1, 2013. They appear to only be applicable to health insurance policies and not automobile or other insurance policies. In 2014, these Health Insurance statutes were amended again (§§ 83-9-3, and 83-9-5), to insert a provision requiring insurance carriers doing business in Mississippi to honor assignments for a period of 1 year from the dates of the assignment or until the insured revokes the assignment. This provision became effective July 1, 2014. Again, these sections apply to health insurance and do not appear applicable to automobile insurance policies. In 2016, the Health Insurance statutes were amended to remove the provision that permitted the patient to revoke the assignment. This provision is effective July 1, 2016. These sections continue to apply to health insurance and do not appear applicable to automobile insurance policies at this time. NOTE: Attempts continue to be made to amend these sections of the code to apply these new laws to automobile insurance. Please consult the current status of the law in this area. Automobile GuestThere is no “Guest Statute” in Mississippi. A driver owes passengers a duty of ordinary care. Hatcher v. Daniel, 87 So. 2d 490, 492 (Miss. 1956). A passenger assumes the risks of obvious danger not created by the driver. Griffin v. Holliday, 233 So. 2d 820, 822 (Miss. 1970). Contributory negligence rules may apply when passenger fails to exercise reasonable care for his own safety, i.e. riding with an obviously intoxicated driver. Hill v. Dunaway, 487 So. 2d 807, 811 (Miss. 1986).______________________A word of caution is necessary whenever legal issues are at stake. The information contained in these posts is for general guidance on matters of interest only. The application and impact of laws can vary widely based on the specific facts involved. Given the changing nature of laws, rules and regulations, there may be omissions or inaccuracies in information contained in this report or laws may have changed or been reinterpreted. Accordingly, the information in this report is provided with the understanding that the authors are not herein engaged in rendering legal, tax, or other professional advice and services. As such, it should not be used as a substitute for consultation with legal or other competent advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, particularly before denying any first-party claims, you should consult with your counsel or the attorneys at Holcomb Dunbar.
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