Dogbite Case

Date: February 16, 2010
Posted In: DLP Law

Helen was taking a leisurely stroll on a sunny Saturday afternoon on Main Street in Hawley. Helen was on her way to the candy store when, out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a rather large dog without a collar crossing the street heading towards her.

Helen continued to walk towards the store as the dog got closer and closer. Helen did not see any type of aggressive behavior with the dog and reached down to pet it. Unfortunately, as soon as Helen stuck her hand out, the dog bit her, causing a serious injury to her hand. When Helen screamed, the dog let go and ran away. Because of various complications, Helen\’s medical bills would run over $20,000.

Issue: Does Helen have any right to bring a lawsuit against the municipality?

Answer: No. A stray dog on a town sidewalk would not be considered within the care, custody or control of the municipality. The municipality would enjoy sovereign immunity or, in other words, could not be sued in such a circumstance. Examples of potential liability would be for police dogs and/or horses that were being used by policemen.

In cases involving animals, a court will determine whether the animal at issue was a wild or a domestic animal. If the animal is wild, there is no liability. If the animal is considered a domestic animal, then the court will make a determination whether or not that animal is in the control of the local governmental agency. If it is not, then there can be no lawsuit against the municipality.

Disclaimer: The above article is for instructive purposes only and each case is fact sensitive. Consultation with an attorney should be obtained instead of reliance upon the legal issues discussed in this column.

Tom Cummings
Thomas P. Cummings has been a Partner with Dougherty Leventhal & Price, LLP since 1996 and has been with the firm since 1991. He focuses his practice on workers’ compensation, Social Security Disability and personal injury cases.