Landlords: could you be sued for on-site dog bites?
October 1, 2010
Is a landlord responsible if a tenant’s dog bites someone? An Indiana court said no. But wait until you see the reasons for the ruling.
The Garrrises rented a piece of property from landlord Stewart. As is the case with most leases, the tenants were given full control over the property with the landlord having no control unless the tenants defaulted in the rent. The Garrise’s dog bit the O’Connor’s 12-year-old son.
Apparently figuring that suing the tenants wouldn’t get them anything, the O’Connors sued Stewart, the landlord, for $1 million. The landlord in turn said, “This is nonsense!” and asked the court for a summary judgment—a judgment without trial. The court agreed.
In its ruling the court found that the landlord retained no control over the property and had no knowledge of any danger from the dog.
The O’Connors appealed claiming that the case should go to trial because there was a question as to whether the landlord knew of a dog living on the property. But the appeals court agreed with the original ruling: no trial, case dismissed.
The reasoning was that there was no issue for a jury to decide regarding the landlord’s liability for the child’s injuries. It didn’t matter if the landlord knew there was a dog on the premises. The only issues were if she, one, retained any control over the premises, and/or two, knew that the dog was dangerous. The landlord showed she did not qualify either way.
Even though the ruling was in favor of the landlord, it is frightening. There could have been a trial if the landlord had had some control over the property or if she had even suspected the dog was dangerous.
Imagine this situation: a tenant rents half of a duplex and is entitled to exclusive use of the backyard for her dog. The landlord uses the front of the property as a common area and maintains that. The tenant’s dog bites someone in the common area. Would that mean that the landlord could be liable for the dog bite?