Homeowner responsible for dog bite, not the dog's owner

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Barked: Thu Dec 4, '08 5:36pm PST 
Link to the article Homeowner responsible for dog bite, not the dog's owner or read it here!

December 4, 2008

Homeowner responsible for dog bite, not the dog's owner

By Kevin Murphy
For the Northwestern

MADISON – A state appeals court ruled Wednesday that a Menasha homeowner is responsible for dog bite injuries to a passerby even though it was the dog's owner, and not the homeowner, who let the dog out of the house before the attack occurred.

In a 2-1 opinion, the District 2 Court of Appeals overturned Winnebago County Judge Thomas Gritton's decision to dismiss a civil lawsuit filed by Colleen and Thomas Pawlowski, of Neenah, against Nancy Seefeldt, of Menasha and her insurer, American Family Mutual Insurance Company.

The Pawlowskis sued Seefeldt after a dog owned by Walter Waterman charged out of the front door of Seefeldt's house in October 2003, crossed the street and bit Colleen Pawlowski three times causing 16 puncture wounds and some soft tissue damage.

Thomas Pawlowski declined to comment on Wednesday's decision but said the attack has left his wife, Colleen, afraid of strange dogs.

"She's deathly afraid now and she liked to walk. This was an attack. The dog came after her, she turned but the dog tore a hole in the back of her coat and then continued to bite her," Thomas Pawlowski said.

Waterman and his dog moved into the Seefeldt's house after Waterman lost his job and his girlfriend's residence didn't allow pets. Seefeldt already had three dogs and a large fenced backyard. Waterman regularly took his dog on errands and was going to take the dog to the grocery store in a car when the attack occurred. Waterman later moved out of state and couldn't be located when the Pawlowskis sued in October 2006.

Gritton dismissed the suit in October 2007, finding that Seefeldt didn't fit the definition of the dog's "keeper" status under state statutes, as it was Waterman who let the dog out.

The Pawlowski's appealed arguing that Seefeldt was the dog "keeper" as the statute defines that role as the person who shelters and protects the dog on an ongoing basis. The dog had lived at Seefeldt's house for four months prior to the attack, making Seefeldt the dog's statutory owner and fully liable for any injuries the dog caused, the court ruled.

"Our review of…Wisconsin cases leads us to conclude that Seefeldt had not relinquished keeper status, as she still maintained the dog at her premises, and in fact, the dog charged out at Colleen from Seefeldt's front door," wrote Judge Lisa Neubauer in 14-page opinion.

In a dissent Judge Harry Snyder wrote that dog bite cases are decided on their particular facts and Seefeldt had relinquished her limited "keeper" status when Waterman ran after his dog.

Attorneys for Pawlowski and Seefeldt weren't available for immediate comment Wednesday.

Edited by author Thu Dec 4, '08 5:36pm PST


If you are- conservative- pmail me!
Barked: Thu Dec 4, '08 5:38pm PST 
Luckee has never showed signs of bitting. If he did bite I would feel responsible.
Nadiya KC- Dog- Advocates

Member of KC Dog- Advocates.
Barked: Thu Dec 4, '08 7:16pm PST 
More and more suits are being filed against the home or property owners that rent property out. It's now a trend in this area not to rent to pit bull owners or any dog that resembles one. Case in point, the Hill case.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Pit Bull Victim Alan Hill Awarded $7.25 Million Dollars
For the Hill Family, a Piece of Justice
Independence, MO - Alan L. Hill, who suffered severe injuries after being attacked by a group of pit bulls, was awarded $7.25 million by a Jackson County judge. The May 4, 2006, attacks against Hill and two other men sparked an outcry for tougher dog laws in Independence and neighboring communities. After the attack, Independence enacted a pit bull ban.

The judge ruled that several defendants should have known of the dogs' vicious propensities. Listed as defendants were Brittnee Ann Wisdom and James K. Knowles, the owners of the property the pit bulls escaped from, and Wisdom’s mother, Nancy J. Wisdom. Paul Piper, the owner of the dogs, and Bryan Smith, a handyman previously convicted of criminal charges in the case, were named as third-party defendants.

The injuries Hill suffered were catastrophic. Dr. Charles Beggs, who helped treat Hill, said that large areas of one arm were missing tissue. There was extensive damage everywhere -- to the muscle, skin, blood vessels and nerves. Hill's rehabilitation, he said, "will take years." Judge Vernon E. Scoville agreed and ruled that the attack caused permanent disfiguring and disabling injuries (links depict Alan Hill's injuries).

The civil case shed new light on the attacks, including the fact that the Wisdoms and Knowles all tried to contact animal control to have the dogs removed in the days before the dogs’ rampage. Brittnee Wisdom left more than one note for Piper, telling him that he needed to have the dogs fenced in or restrained in a cage. "I just rented the place out and the people have small children," she wrote.

On the morning of the attacks, the Wisdoms drove to the house to meet animal-control officers and have the dogs removed. But the officers already had left. The mother later called Smith to ask him to unlock the door for animal control. He did, but he also left a window open, and the dogs escaped. The dogs quickly went on a rampage, seriously injuring three people. Police eventually located and killed the dogs.
More and more property owners are bearing the liability cost pit bull dogs inflict. As you can see, the cost is huge.
Smith later was sentenced to a year in jail for misdemeanor assault and was to serve 100 days in jail as shock time. Piper also was convicted in municipal court.


If you are- conservative- pmail me!
Barked: Thu Dec 4, '08 8:00pm PST 
Who do you think should be responsible?
Heidi CGC

Play Play Play
Barked: Thu Dec 4, '08 8:14pm PST 
The owner unless the homeowner/property manager had complaints about the dogs or knew they were vicious. Then I feel they are liable as well, so both in those cases.

This is a scary trend for those who own dogs and live in apartments/rentals. It can already be hard to find places to rent, I just can't think that this helping.
Nadiya KC- Dog- Advocates

Member of KC Dog- Advocates.
Barked: Thu Dec 4, '08 8:53pm PST 
The logic is the property owner should know what is going on with his property, so they make them responsible in the case I posted both the property owner and the renter were responsible. I don't feel the renter got enough punishment and I think the settlement is way over the top. I understand the reason behind it, Mr. Hill was in the hospital for over a year and still is disabled from the attack.

I think if a property owner rents the property with a person with dogs it shouldn't be breed specific, it should include all. If it were me I would have extra coverage for a renter having a dog, just to cover my butt, or not rent to them at all, most landlords check the property some don't bother, most insurance companies charge a small fortune.

So most landlords don't allow dogs. So I do think the property owner is at fault along with the renter.

Lets Play!
Barked: Thu Dec 4, '08 8:57pm PST 
I also believe that the owner of the dog should be responsible. It saddens me that once again all dog owners pay the price for irresponsible owners.

But I also have to say that I can see the other side of the issue. If someone is injured in a dog attack the owner of the animal should be responsible for the injuries sustained by the recipient of the attack. But if the owner has no financial resources, and renters policies (I believe that they only cover items in the house not injuries occurring on the property, but someone correct me if I am wrong, please) do not cover damage done by the dog, where does the money come from to pay for the injuries? The homeowner's are being sued because the homeowners insurance will be forced to pay out.

It seems as if the fix for this problem would be for there to be some kind of add on policy for renter's insurance to cover injuries sustained on the property if it is the result of the renters negligence or pet. That way the appropriate individual will be required to pay out, and homeowner's will still rent to people with pets. I don't know if this would work, but it seems as if it might. Just my opinion though.
Ms. Shiba

Attitude comes- in small- packages!
Barked: Sat Dec 6, '08 10:23am PST 
I think renter's insurance does cover liability for things like that. But I bet a lot of renters don't have coverage at all. I know for many years I didn't have any coverage. It's not wise, but people don't think they need coverage because their "stuff" is not very valuable. The thing is, it's not the "stuff" that's the most expensive, it's the liability for things like when your dog bites someone else, or when other accidents happen in the property you are renting.

So if folks don't have renter's insurance then of course the lawyer will want to go after whoever has the deepest pockets for their client's sake - there is no point in getting a judgement against someone that has no money, because you still can't recover.

I think that the owner of the property should only be liable if he or she has knowledge of problems with the dog. I think once the owner has knowledge, whether they do anything to mitigate that or not they should still be able to be held liable.
Luna CGC

Yes, I\'m a- yellow belly. - And?
Barked: Sat Dec 6, '08 11:37am PST 
Well, allow me to post from personal experience!

My Dad has a home in Florida. A few years back, he left to come back to the DC area, and rented the house to my older brother. My brother, who was about 27 or 28 at the time, had a sweet Rottie named Dutch.

Anyway, Dutch was glued to my brother's side. The house had a washer and dryer in the garage, and when my brother would do laundry, Dutch was always out there with him.

Stupidly, one day the door was open and a man was riding his bike on the sidewalk down the other side of the street. Dutch barked, and ran into the street towards the man. However, my brother called him, and he returned back inside the garage.

The man, though, saw a Rottie running towards him and fell off his bike. He was uninjured but his glasses fell off, and broke. That was the extent of the damages.

He sued my Father, as the homeowner, for $100,000. They claimed that he was emotionally scarred, and Florida law says a bite does not have to occur for the injury to have happened. The dog wasn't on a leash, and left his own yard.

The homeowners settled out of court with the man for $25,000. Then they dropped my Dad and he has since had to go with another company and pay much higher premiums.

No, I don't think it is fair that it was him and not my brother responsible. But as long as people sue for $100,000 for broken glasses, the homeowner will continue to be responsible, as they have to carry the big insurance.
Donovan'sMajesticJet of Solace

Street sweeper!
Barked: Mon Dec 8, '08 12:35pm PST 
The homeowner. Its the same with people.If you have a pool in yard and the kid next door climbs the fence, gets in your pool and downs, homeowner is responsible.Its s shame so much attention was drawn to the breed instead of the owners being negligent pup owners.

Edited by author Mon Dec 8, '08 12:37pm PST

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