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Feb 01 2011

Pet Owners Beware:Playful Dog May Lead to Liability. Man Held Responsible for Mother-In-Law’s Injury Due to “Jumpy” Dog

A Judge in Brooklyn’s Supreme Court has held that  a pet owner can be automatically responsible for injuries caused by a dog that has a history of playfully jumping on people. As the owner of a 9 pound Shi-Poo who loves to greet guests this way, the case attracted my attention.  Now my little furry rat couldn’t knock over a house cat but the case still merits attention because most pet owners think their dog has to be vicious for them to be held responsible for their actions.

To make matters worse, the case of Ashaman Banout v. Robert Daniels involved a woman suing her son in law for injuries she sustained when the couple’s dog playfully jumped on mom-in-law as she was leaving the house.  The dog made her fall off the exterior porch and down four steps. Losing a case is bad enough, losing to your mother in law can lead to a lifetime of misery.

In order to win a case against a dog owner in NY, you have to prove that the dog had “vicious propensities.” Once you prove that, the dog owner becomes automatically or “strictly” liable for any injuries caused by those vicious propensities.  It doesn’t matter if the dog had ever bitten anyone before; as long as you could prove the dog was known to be violent or dangerous you won your case.  So we know what violent or vicious means but what is “dangerous” behavior?

Judge Yvonne Lewis pointed out that the defendant and his wife (the plaintiff chose not to sue her daughter)  admitted that their dog Lola would jump on house guests all the time and that their kids had to “hold the dog back” to prevent it from jumping on both of the couple’s mothers on a regular basis.  I was a bit suspicious that perhaps the couple testified in this manner to win the case for mom-in-law and that they were in cahoots with her.  But their testimony shows that they were trying very hard to down play the dog’s behavior. For example, the daughter testified the dog only did so “playfully” and that her kids always held the dog back when her mother and mother in law were in the house.  The son in law stated that the dog only did that when she was a puppy. He denied that the dog jumped on his mother in law because the kids always held the dog back.  Also, the couple filed a motion to dismiss the case which the judge denied and instead granted the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment.

In doing so, Judge Lewis stated that:

While Lola’s actions were not “vicious” in the sense that she snapped or bit guests, her proclivity for jumping on guests will support the imputation of strict liability to Mr. McDaniels nonetheless.

Let me translate that from judge-speak to English – “Because you knew the dog was jumpy, you lose.”  The court also stated that

A known tendency to attack others, even in playfulness, as in the case of an overly friendly large dog with a propensity for enthusiastic jumping up on visitors, will be enough to make the defendant liable for damages resulting from such an act’

By the way, since dog owners are strictly liable for the vicious or dangerous propensities of their dogs, it does not matter that mom-in-law was also aware of the dog’s jumpy habit; its not her responsibility to not get hurt, its the dog owner’s responsibility to control their dog.

So pet owners control your dogs or you could find yourself in an ugly court case which you are likely to lose. Someone should have put up a sign in front of these people’s home : “Beware of Mother In Law!”

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