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Landlord not responsible for dog bite

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The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment today for a landlord who was sued by a postal carrier who was bitten by a tenant’s dog that had escaped from the property. The judges declined to find that by entering into a lease, a landlord establishes a relationship to a tenant’s dog.

Duane Deitrich rented property to Angel Todd and Steve Sanders, who had a large male pit bull dog. Although Deitrich typically didn’t allow pets, he made an exception for the pit bull because he had been with the family for seven years and the family said he was well behaved. Deitrich later learned the dog was trained to dislike people who wore a uniform and non-white people.

The dog escaped the property and bit postal carrier Alrita Morehead in the right breast. She sued Deitrich for damages. The trial court granted summary judgment for Deitrich because he didn’t retain control of the property. The trial court denied Morehead’s motion to correct error.

Caselaw says, to prevail against a landowner for the acts of a tenant’s dog, Morehead must "demonstrate both that the landowner[ ], 'retained control over the property' and 'had actual knowledge that the [dog] had dangerous propensities.'" Morehead conceded that Deitrich didn’t have control of the property when the dog escaped and bit her, which entitles Deitrich to summary judgment.

In Alrita Morehead v. Duane Deitrich, No. 09A04-1003-CT-172, Morehead argued Deitrich had a duty to prevent a dangerous situation under the theory of premises liability. She cited several cases addressing property defects, but the appellate court declined to find the dog in this case to be a property defect. It’s the duty of the owner to keep the animal confined, and the mere possession or ownership of land from which an animal strays isn’t sufficient to make the landlord liable as long as he or she isn’t the animal’s keeper, wrote Judge Carr Darden citing Blake v. Dunn Farms, Inc., 413 N.E.2d 560, 563 (Ind. 1980).

The appellate court also declined to find that by virtue of entering into a lease, a landlord establishes a relationship to his or her tenant’s dog.

“It is not the dog’s mere presence on leased property that causes harm. Rather, it is the owner’s failure to adequately confine that dog. Thus, we do not conclude that there is a high degree of foreseeability that leasing property to the owners of vicious dogs will result in injury to third parties,” he wrote. “We agree that society has an interest in preventing dog attacks against innocent parties, and therefore in keeping vicious dogs adequately confined. It would be unreasonable, however, to impose a duty on landlords to regulate tenants’ animals, where the owners clearly are in the best position to do so.”
 


 

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