Being attacked or bitten by a vicious dog is a frightening experience, even if the resulting injury is relatively minor. You may need help paying for medical expenses or covering lost wages after you were attacked by a dangerous dog.
In some instances, a landlord may be held liable for an attack by a dog they knew about that occurs on their property. Here’s what you should know and how to get the legal help you need after a dog bite.
When Is Someone Responsible for a Dog Bite?
When someone is injured by a dog, the law allows for a number of individuals to be held accountable. Each state has a separate set of rules for determining who is liable in a dog bite case.
Some states will hold a dog’s owner culpable regardless of negligence, meaning that they are liable even if they didn’t know the dog would bite. To be held criminally liable in other states, however, a dog owner can defend themselves by saying they didn’t know about the dog’s violent characteristics. Massachusetts and New Hampshire are each strict liability states, meaning they fall under the former description.
The Difference Between Dog Bite Lawsuits Against Owners vs. Landlords
Filing a lawsuit for a dog attack against an owner differs significantly from one filed against a landlord. In the first instance, you’re essentially just arguing that the defendant(s) own the dog, the dog hurt you, and that you were following the law when you were attacked (e.g., you were not trespassing on private property).
In the second situation, you have a choice between two legal arguments: that the landlord knew about the dog, that the dog was hazardous or unsanctioned, and failed to remove it, or that the landlord was sheltering the dog or it was otherwise under their control.
Both of these avenues can be complicated and requires extensive experience specifically in dog bite law, especially when the damages are in the hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.
A landlord might be held responsible for injuries that were caused by a tenant’s animal, even if the attack occurs outside of the rental premises. In 1993, the Oregon Supreme Court determined that a landlord can be held responsible for damages resulting from a dog attack if the animal presented a clear danger to anyone outside the rental property. (Park v. Hoffard, 847 P.2d 853 (Or. 1993).)
A California appeals court decided likewise, noting that responsibility for a dog attack that occurs off-premises is determined by the same criteria that define culpability for an injury that occurs on-premises. For example, if a dog escapes its yard due a defect in the fencing, the landlord may be considered responsible for any harm the dog causes, even if off-site. (Donchin v. Guerrero, 41 Cal. Rptr. 2d 192.) (Cal. App. 1995).
Even so, some civil courts have held that a landlord has no obligation to protect third party entities from injury sustained by a tenant’s pet off the grounds. (Tran v. Bancroft, 648 So. 2d 314 (Fla. App. 1995).)
How do I know whether to file a lawsuit against the dog’s owner or a landlord?
The law considers it the dog owner’s obligation to keep their pet confined or restricted to an area where other people cannot go or to notify people that there is an aggressive animal on the property.
While the owner of a dog is more likely to be held accountable for any damages caused by a dog attack, a landlord may also be held liable in specific circumstances. In some situations, both the landlord and the dog owner can be held accountable. A veteran dog bite lawyer in your area can help you determine who you should bring your lawsuit against.
How a Landlord Might Defend Their Case
A landlord who has been sued for damages resulting from a dog attack that took place on property they were renting may use the following potential defenses:
They didn’t know about the dog or that the dog was a danger
To be held responsible, a landlord generally must have known the dog was present and that the dog was a danger. For example, if you live in an apartment complex and another resident has a dog that the landlord doesn’t know about, they typically cannot be held liable for injuries caused by the dog.
If the landlord knew about the dog though, they may be able to say that they had no reason to know that the dog was a danger. An example of this might be if the dog had no history of attacking and/or the dog was of a breed not well known for causing critical injuries, like a chihuahua. That said, since both Massachusetts and New Hampshire are strict liability states, if the landlord owned the dog, they may still be held responsible.
They didn’t have the power or authority to remove the dog.
If your landlord did not have the authority to have the dog removed from the property, they may argue this in court. This is a rare defense; usually, landlords do have the power to remove unsanctioned or dangerous pets.
The most common example of this is if the pet is a service animal. If the dog that bit you is a service or guide dog, your landlord may not be able to mandate the owner rid the home of the animal under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The injury didn’t occur on their property.
In some cases, a landlord may try to argue that the dog attack occurred elsewhere and not on property they owned or were renting. If the landlord can provide sufficient evidence that either you were not attacked where you claim to be or that they did not own the premises where you were attacked, they are highly unlikely to be held legally responsible.
Bitten By a Dog? Contact a Massachusetts & New Hampshire Dog Bite Lawyer Now
If you or someone you love were attacked, bitten, or otherwise injured by a dangerous dog, it’s important to act quickly. After obtaining medical care, you should reach out to an experienced dog bite lawyer in Massachusetts or New Hampshire for help.
At Mazow | McCullough, PC, we have the skills and expertise to provide you with comprehensive assistance after being attacked by a vicious dog. Contact us today by dialing (978) 744-8000 or call us toll free at (855) 693-9084.