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When Fido’s Bark Causes a Plaintiff to Fall: Is the Owner Legally Liable?

Because “every dog has its day,” here’s a lawsuit where a dog had its day in court.

Startled by a Dog

In Grau v. Carroll, a woman who was out walking her dog became startled by the barking and running of a golden retriever, named Maggie, who was behind her owner’s electric fence. In backing away from Maggie, the woman stepped off the sidewalk and fell. She sued Maggie’s owners, alleging that she sustained personal injuries.

Maggie’s owners sought to have the case dismissed on the grounds that there was no evidence that they had engaged in negligent conduct. The Court of Common Pleas agreed and dismissed the case.

In dismissing the case, the court rejected three theories of liability argued by the plaintiff. First, the court found that Maggie’s owners had not violated a local ordinance pertaining to the confinement of dogs because Maggie was confined within the premises of the owner behind an electric fence and remained there during the incident. Second, the court found that Maggie’s owners did not violate a Pennsylvania statute regarding the harboring of dangerous dogs because there was no evidence that Maggie had ever “pursued” and thereby “attacked” a person or animal, as required to find a violation of the statute. Finally, the court found that there is no duty at law for a dog owner to prevent his/her dog from barking or growling, from running along the fence inside the owner’s yard, or to prevent the dog from startling others. As the court put it:

The simply reality is that dogs bark, and sometimes growl. It is their means of communication, as they lack the capacity for speech that humans possess. To impose upon dog owners a duty to prevent their dogs from barking or growling would be to impose an impossible burden. Likewise, dogs are living beings, not inanimate objects, and owners are not required to prevent their dogs from running in their own yards, even if that running may be startling to others.

Conclusion

The case provides a valuable lesson regarding what’s legally required to prevail in personal injury litigation. Being injured is not enough. To obtain recovery, you must be able prove that your injury was caused by the negligence of another.