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Sit Rover! A Landlord Can Be Liable For A Dog Bite In Common Areas

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By Thomas R. Wolf

March 6, 2018

Landlords, as a general rule, are not liable for attacks made by animals owned or harbored by their tenants. The owner, on the other hand, can be held strictly liable under R.C. 955.28, which imposes strict liability on the owner, keeper or harborer of the dog for “any injury, death, or loss to person or property that is caused by the dog.” Often times, renters do not have insurance that will cover claims, and plaintiffs seek alternate sources of compensation, often looking to the landlord as an alternate party.

In Weisman v. Wasserman, 2018-Ohio-290, the Eighth District Court of Appeals reversed a summary judgment in favor of a landlord. The landlord, Wasserman, was the owner of a two-unit rental property located in Lakewood, Ohio. One of the tenants owned a pit bull, which the plaintiffs alleged was an “emotional support dog” in order to avoid Lakewood’s ban on pit bulls. On the day of the incident, a six year old neighbor opened the door to the tenant’s unit to play with other similar-aged children. Upon opening the door, the six year old was attacked by the dog and suffered multiple injuries, requiring stitches and plastic surgery to his face.

The tenants moved for summary judgment, which was denied. The landlord likewise filed a summary judgment, which was granted by the trial court. The trial court focused on the requirement on “harboring” as it applied to the landlord and found that the landlord can be liable only if a dog attacks someone in a common area or in an area shared by both the landlord and the tenant. Burgess v. Tackas, 125 Ohio App. 3d 294, 708 N.E. 2d 285 (8th Dist. 1998).

The plaintiffs appealed the granting of summary judgment, and the Court of Appeals reversed. The Court of Appeals noted that a plaintiff can pursue damages for a dog bite under both statute and common law. The landlord, if found to be a harborer, can be strictly liable under the statute and liable under common law if it is shown a landlord harbored the dog with knowledge of its vicious tendencies.

The Court of Appeals found that the location of the attack was at issue here. The evidence in the case consisted of depositions and affidavits from the landlord and defendants. However, none were present when the attack occurred. There was some evidence of blood in the hallway and on a stair landing, which was common ground. As a result, the Court of Appeals found that there was an issue as to whether the attack occurred in a common area. Therefore, summary judgment was reserved.

The lessons for landlords is a requirement to be diligent when allowing dogs on the property. It is unavoidable that at certain times, the dog will be present in the common grounds as it traverses its residence to the outside. However, a landlord, in order to avoid the possibility of liability for damages caused by the dog, must clearly designate the area in which the dog may access. Furthermore, a landlord should take efforts to determine whether the dog has any past history that could make the landlord liable under the common law. The issue of whether the dog was banned under the City statute was not addressed by the Court of Appeals, but a landlord also has an obligation to comply with any city ordinance that may effect pets on the premises.

If you would like a copy of the decision or have any questions, please contact one of our General Liability/Surplus Risks Practice Group Members.

This has been prepared for informational purposes only. It does not contain legal advice or legal opinion and should not be relied upon for individual situations. Nothing herein creates an attorney-client relationship between the Reader and Reminger. The information in this document is subject to change and the Reader should not rely on the statements in this document without first consulting legal counsel.

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