SW Legal studies in Business

Home Owner Liable for Dog Bite Inflicted by Dog Owned by Boarder in Home
Description

A Wisconsin statute imposes strict liability on the owners of dogs when their dogs inflict injury. This liability extends to bites inflicted by the dogs of boarders that inflict injuries on others. For purposes of the statute, the homeowner is considered to be the owner of any dog kept on their property.

Topic Real and Personal Property
Key Words

Strict Liability; Dog Bite; Owner

C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts

Seefeldt allowed Waterman to move into her home. Seefeldt owned three dogs; Waterman owned two dogs. The house had a fenced backyard. As Pawlowski walked in front of Seefeldt's home, Waterman's unleashed dogs ran off the front porch and attacked her. Waterman chased after the dogs and got them under control, but not before Pawlowski suffered puncture wounds from bites. The police investigated. Waterman said the dogs were going for a ride with him when he opened the front door, but they ran after Pawlowski when they saw her. Seefeldt kicked Waterman and his dogs out of her house. Pawlowski sued Seefeldt for violating a Wisconsin statute that says that "the owner of a dog is liable for the full amount of damages caused by the dog injuring or causing injury to a person." This imposes strict liability on dog owners for the results of injuries caused by their dogs. Seefeldt and her homeowner's insurance company argued that she was not the owner of Waterman's dogs so the statute did not apply to her. Pawlowski appealed.

Decision

Reversed. Seefeldt harbored the dogs and thus was the "owner" of the dog at the time the dogs bit Pawlowski, within the purpose of the statute to hold owners strictly liable for injuries caused by dogs. Even though Seefeldt was not the legal owner of the dogs, she allowed the dog owner and the dogs to live in her home and took no steps to control the dogs before the bite incident. Hence, Seefeldt is strictly liable under the statute for the injuries inflicted. The purpose of the statute is to protect people from dog attacks, so this ruling is consistent with the intent of the statute.

Citation Pawlowski v. American Family Mutual Insurance, ---N.W.2d--- (2009 WL 5101757, Sup. Ct., Wisc., 2009)

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