ILNews

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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  3. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  4. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

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