Reversal: Shelter must face negligence suit after adopted dog mauls girl

A south side Indianapolis animal shelter must face a lawsuit from an adopter whose child was attacked by a dog with a history of aggression, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Thursday, reversing a trial court’s grant of summary judgment for the shelter.

In 2014, the Clinton County Humane Society received a dog named Grieg who was surrendered by his owner for not getting along with another dog in the household. Within the following year, Grieg was adopted out and returned by three separate owners, all of whom experienced aggression from the dog.

According to one adopter, Grieg lunged and bit her 2-year-old son, causing the child significant injuries. After that event, Grieg was surrendered to Marion County Animal Control, where a second adopter returned Greig after it also lunged at him.

Grieg’s third adopter, Mark Brown, returned the dog to the Southside Animal Shelter after it attacked Brown’s 6-year-old daughter, Brooke, who sustained injuries to her face that required surgery.

After Southside informed MCAC that it did not want Grieg back and refunded the Browns the adoption fee they paid for Grieg, the MCAC euthanized the dog. The Browns then sued Southside, Clinton County Humane Society, Indianapolis Animal Control Services and MCAC, alleging they were negligent. Brown also added claims that Southside committed fraud and constructive fraud when it represented that Grieg’s history was unknown on the adoption release.

The Marion Superior Court ultimately granted summary judgment to Southside, CCHS, Indianapolis Animal Control Services and MCAC in three separate orders, none of which provided any reasoning for its decision.

In response, the Browns appealed only the trial court’s grant of summary judgment for Southside in the case of Brooke Brown, By Next Friend, Mark Brown v. Southside Animal Shelter Inc, et al., 20A-CT-00066.

The Indiana Court of Appeals ultimately reversed for the Browns, holding that Southside, as the owner and/or keeper of Grieg, had a duty to inform the Browns of Grieg’s “vicious characteristics” so far as it knew, or to the extent such knowledge was ascertainable by the exercise of reasonable care.

“The parties disagree as to whether Southside knew, or should have known by exercise of reasonable care, of Grieg’s past aggressions. For example, Southside contends (Darcie) Kurtz was not an employee or volunteer at the time of Grieg’s arrival at Southside, and thus any information CCHS gave Kurtz could not be considered information given to Southside by virtue of Kurtz as Southside’s agent. The Browns maintain Kurtz was a volunteer at Southside at the time relevant to this action. Further, there also remains a question of fact regarding whether Southside exercised reasonable care in ascertaining Grieg’s behavioral history prior to allowing the Browns to adopt him. As we have determined Southside had a duty to Brown, significant issues of material fact preclude summary judgment in this action,” Judge Melissa May wrote for the appellate court.

The appellate court remanded for proceedings consistent with its opinion.

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