Beware of Tenant’s Dog: Why ‘Facts’ (Or Lack Thereof) Were Pivotal in the Dismissal of a Dog Bite Case Against a Landlord
A recent decision by the Court of Common Pleas of Monroe County provides a good example of how a dog bite lawsuit ― or any lawsuit, for that matter ― will not succeed unless the plaintiff alleges specific facts to support a finding that the law has been violated.
Dog Bites Child
In Gallo v. Precious Moments Academy, the parents of a four-year-old girl filed a lawsuit alleging that their daughter suffered severe injuries when she was bitten on her face by a dog, without provocation, at her daycare center. According to the suit, the center kept dogs on its premises. The attack, which the mother witnessed, occurred in a common area and involved a dog that was on a leash held by one of the center’s owners.
In addition to suing the daycare center and its owners, the parents sued the commercial property landlord that leased the premises to the center, claiming, among other things, that the landlord had violated Pennsylvania’s legislatively enacted dog law.
Pennsylvania’s dog law statutes provide that a dog “owner” must confine, secure, or otherwise control their dog. Here, the landlord argued that the law did not apply because it was not the “owner” of the tenant’s dog.
In considering the issue, the court first took note of the statutory definition of “owner”:
The Dog Law defines “owner” as including “every person having a right of property in such dog, and every person who keeps or harbors such dog or has it in his care, and every person who permits such dog to remain on or about any premises occupied by him.
Next, the court cited legal precedent from the Pennsylvania Superior Court which held that “a landlord out of possession, without more, is not the ‘owner keeper’ of its tenant’s dog under the Dog Law.”
In ruling that the commercial landlord was not liable for the dog bite, the court emphasized that the parents presented no evidence in support of their “bare assertion” that the landlord “kept, housed, and harbored the dogs”:
Nowhere in their Complaint do Plaintiffs allege material facts on which to base an inference that [the commercial landlord] directly feeds, shelters, or cares for [the daycare center owners’] dogs. … We therefore find that Plaintiffs do not allege legally sufficient facts to support their allegations that [the commercial landlord] is a dog owner.
All is not lost for this injured child, as her parents still can proceed with their lawsuit against the daycare center and its owners. The court additionally gave the parents 20 days to amend their lawsuit to allege material facts to support their position that the landlord owned the tenant’s dog. So, if they have such evidence, their suit against the commercial property landlord might still go forward.
The takeaway here is that in litigation, bare assertions will not carry the day. In all lawsuits ― dog bites, personal injury, and otherwise ― the plaintiffs must be prepared to prove facts legally sufficient to establish their right to relief. The court, in this case, found that the plaintiffs fell short in that regard.
If you have been injured by a dog bite or other accident, it is important to consult with a personal injury attorney immediately to ensure that your legal rights are protected.