Listen as John Maher talks with Rob Mazow and Kevin McCullough from the Law Office of Mazow McCullough. They explain who can be held responsible in a dog bite case, and they look at the different types of liability issues that come into play with dog bites.
John Maher: Hey, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Rob Mazow and Kevin McCullough of the Law Office of Mazow McCullough. Today, we’re talking about potential responsible parties in a dog bite case. Welcome Rob and Kevin.
Rob Mazow: Thanks John.
Kevin McCullough: Hi John.
Is the Dog’s Owner Always Responsible for Bites?
John: Rob, is the owner of a dog always the person responsible for a dog bite?
Rob: In a sense, yes. A dog owner is always going to be responsible. “Strictly liable” is the term for the harm that their dog causes. What that means is that no matter what happens, the dog owner is going to be responsible for the damage that their dog causes.
It doesn’t mean that there’s going to be a financial recovery, because there’s all sorts of other things you have to look at to see whether or not there’s any assets, whether there’s any insurance, but at the end of the day, the dog owner is responsible.
Now there are other parties that might be responsible. The “dog keeper” is another word that the dog-bite statute uses and the dog keeper might be somebody who watches your dog for the afternoon or walks your dog, or even a groomer that you take your dog to. At the time that the dog is being groomed, the dog groomer is the keeper of the dog. Those people would also be responsible in the case of a dog bite or a dog attack, but-
John: Right, like if that person was walking them and then let the dog off the leash or something like that?
Who Is Responsible If a Minor Is Taking Care of the Dog?
John: Okay. What about in the case of a minor taking care of the dog… they’re walking a dog and then the dog gets loose from them and goes and bites somebody. Who would be responsible in that case?
Kevin: Yeah, John, unfortunately we do see that frequently here at the office, in that there’s a dog attack situation where the person who was as the keeper of the dog or the person walking the dog at the time clearly should not have been.
They were either too small or too young to be walking a large German Shepherd or a large pit bull or Rottweiler. So in those situations, it’s important to look at what happened and how it happened and what I mean by that is how did it come to be that this particular 8 year old or 10 year old kid was walking this particular dog.
And that starts with who owns the dog, or who was responsible for the dog at the time and who allowed this young person to then leave the house or leave the yard with the dog at the time. Those are things that we see here at the office, and it does allow for a recovery against the minor or the young person at the time of the incident. It doesn’t shield them from a claim or prevent them from being responsible. They can be acting through or with some other party who may be an adult or the dog owner at the time.
Would the Minor’s Parents Be Responsible?
John: In that case, would the parents of that minor be held responsible potentially?
Kevin: Yeah. It’s just something that they just shouldn’t have let the child leave the house with the dog.
Kevin: In the legal world, we look at this that’s called “reasonable person standard”. And is it reasonable for an adult dog owner to allow an 8 or 10 year old kid to leave the house or the yard with the dog? And I think when what we see and what juries decide is “no, that’s completely unreasonable, they should not have done that.”
Clearly it was creating this dangerous issue, which ultimately resulted in horrible injuries with these dog bites and dog attacks. And those cases can be pursued and those dog owners or adults can and will be held responsible for making those decisions.
Can a Property Owner Be Held Responsible for Dog Bites?
John: Can a property owner or a landlord be held responsible for a dog bite in the case where they’re not the dog owner, but maybe the dog owner lives at their property?
Rob: Yes, it’s possible. And it would be something that we would look at. Let me give an example, let’s say a landlord rents a property to somebody who has a dog, a dangerous dog, and the landlord knew, or should have known that the dog was dangerous. And let’s say that the police had been there with other complaints before about this dog being an aggressive dog or the dog’s barking, growling, and snapping all the time at somebody who’s walking by. And let’s say that the dog does cause somebody harm, the landlord could be sued by the injured party under a negligence theory.
That’s different from a strict liability theory. Under a negligence theory where the injured party would say, “Okay, landlord you knew or should have known that this dog was on your property, had a propensity, or could have caused harm. It did cause harm to me. You had a duty to prevent that from happening by either not allowing that person to live there with this dog or by having this person make sure that there’s a fence around the yard or something like that. And you’ve breached that duty. Therefore, you are responsible.”
Now that’s different from the strict liability statute, we talked about earlier where the dog owner or the dog keeper, regardless of any negligence, is responsible. If you want to bring a claim against a property owner or a land owner that has no ownership in this dog, you would have to bring it under a negligence theory.
How Are the Responsible Parties in a Dog Bite Case Determined?
John: Okay. And how and when are these potentially responsible parties in a dog bite case determined? At what stage during the process, are they determined? And then how do you pursue potentially going after multiple different parties in a dog bite case?
Kevin: Yeah. So it is and can be an ongoing process and what I mean by that is when an incident happens, it’s very important to capture as much information as you can, as a dog bite victim… If there are witnesses present, determining who the dog owner is or was at the time, and who the keeper was at the time, where the incident or the attack occurred, if there are property owners involved or potentially involved. And that can be a situation where additional information is gathered over time.
A lot of claims, most claims, settle at the claim level, they don’t go to court, they don’t go into litigation, but oftentimes as a result of who’s at fault, or who’s responsible, or if multiple parties may be responsible, lawsuits have to get filed to continue to investigate that situation and what happened and why through what’s called discovery, paperwork, documents, depositions.
And there can be information gathered years later after an incident occurs where it now is revealed or comes to light that someone else may be at fault or may be responsible. So it is an ongoing issue, but it is critical to gather that information as soon in time and as close to the event as possible. And that’s just to help when you’re approving that information down the road.
Contact the Law Office of Mazow McCullough to Learn More
John: Okay. All right. Well, that’s really great information, Rob and Kevin, thanks again for speaking with me today.
Rob: Thank you, John.
John: And for more information, visit the website at helpinginjured.com or call 9787448000.