Negligent Handling of Animals
Establishing Negligence in a Dog Bite or Animal Attack Case
“Negligence” is the claim made in most general personal injury cases. There is also a negligence claim available to those injured by a dog bite. An injured person must prove the following four things (legally known as “elements”) to prove that a person was negligent in the handling of an animal:
- The person owned or possessed the animal;
- The person owed a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent the animal from injuring someone;
- The person breached his or her duty; and
- The person’s breach of the duty proximately caused a person’s injury. This claim differs from a claim alleging strict liability (see below), because an injured person does not need to prove that an animal was vicious or dangerous when suing for negligent handling.
The first element – who owned or possessed the animal – is fairly straightforward in most cases, because it is usually easy to prove who owned or possessed a dog. However, it is important to identify all people who owned or possessed the dog to locate all available insurance.
The second element – whether the owner or possessor of an animal owed a duty to the injured person – depends on the facts of the case. For example, in the typical animal attack case, a dog owned or possessed by a homeowner bites and injures someone. In that situation, a person owes a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent his or her animals from injuring people. If the defendant is a landlord, the duty is different. In common areas (such as around a pool at an apartment complex), a landlord owes a duty to an injured person if the landlord (1) had actual or imputed knowledge that a dog was in a common area and (2) actually knew that the animal had vicious propensities. If the animal attack occurred in the actual leased premises (such as in an apartment), the landlord owes a duty to a non-tenant if the landlord (1) actually knew that the animal was on the leased premises; (2) actually knew that the animal had vicious propensities; and (3) was able to control the premises.
The third element – an owner or possessor breaching the duty – can occur in a number of very obvious ways. A person might walk a dog without a leash, tether a dog in a front yard, or let an animal roam free. A person might not take action to stop a dog attack after it has begun. A person might also fail to maintain a fence or pen, thereby allowing an animal to escape and harm someone.
The fourth and last element – proximate cause of injury – is simpler to understand that it sounds. “Proximate cause of injury” means that the other three elements above must have caused foreseeable (or potentially expected) harm or injury to someone. The harm is usually physical injury, but it can also include mental anguish and permanent psychological injury.