DOG BITES: LANDLORD LIABILITY FOR DAMAGES CAUSED BY A TENANT’S DOG
In a blog published in 2016 I wrote about the Connecticut Strict Liability law as it relates to damages caused by dogs, and the absolute responsibility of the owner or keeper of the dog for those damages. A question that often comes up is what happens when the owner or keeper is a tenant in a house, apartment or other dwelling that he or she does not own. Is the landlord legally responsible for the damages if the landlord is neither the owner nor keeper of the dog? The answer lies in the common-law rules that define principles of premises liability law. The ultimate question of the landlord’s legal responsibility for the damages suffered by someone on the property will be determined by the landlord’s actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition existing on the premises. That might be an easier call when someone slips, trips or falls on the property, as discussed in my blog published in January, 2018, but how is a landlord charged with knowledge that a dog on the property creates a dangerous condition sufficient to impose legal liability?
In a decision published on August 27, 2019, the Connecticut Appellate Court attempts to shed some light on the issue. In the case of Sen v. Tsiongas, the Court reversed a summary judgment ruling in favor of the landlord and remanded the case for trial to determine if the disputed facts were sufficient to show that the landlord knew, or reasonably should have known of the dog’s previous aggressive tendencies so that he should have been deemed to be on notice of the potential for the dog to bite visitors to the property. The Court noted that there was evidence presented that the dog had previously displayed vicious tendencies that were visible to everyone who went on the property, and that the landlord would have likely observed that aggression during weekly visits to the property; had previously scratched the plaintiff’s husband and bit the dog owner’s son; had barked at the landlord through a window while he was mowing the lawn; and would pull toward the landlord while being walked on a leash. On the basis of the disputed evidence, the Appellate Court concluded that the trial court could not rule as a matter of law that the Landlord did not bear legal liability for the tenant’s dog biting the plaintiff, and remanded the case for trial to determine if there was sufficient evidence to find that the landlord had actual or constructive knowledge of the vicious propensities of the dog so as to impose liability on him for maintaining his premises in a dangerous condition by allowing the dog to remain on the property.
Significantly, when those injured as a result of a dog bite incident do not seek compensation from the owner or keeper of the dog under the strict liability law, but bring claims against a landlord, it is often due to lack of insurance on the part of the dog’s owner and/or keeper, and an effort to recover from the landlord’s Insurance Liability Policy. In order to do so, however, there needs to be some evidence to show that the Landlord had actual or constructive knowledge of the dog’s prior aggressive behavior. If you or a loved one have suffered injuries due to a dog bite, you should promptly seek the advice of an Attorney familiar with all aspects of personal injury law so as to protect your legal rights.