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Indiana Owner of Hard-Headed Ram Must Face Premises Liability Claim

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By Codie Ross

March 25, 2019

In Indiana, a possessor of land owes her invitee a duty to exercise reasonable care for the invitee’s protection while on the landowner’s premises.  Applying this approach, the Indiana Court of Appeals recently found that a woman headbutted by a ram while tending to another woman’s animals is allowed to pursue her premises liability claim against the ram’s owner.

By way of background, Kathy Fillio was required to travel out of state, and left her Salem, Indiana property and numerous animals in the care of Dennis Slate. While Fillio was gone, one of her female goats fell ill, prompting Slate to try to contact Fillio. After being unable to contact Fillio, Slate then sought help in nursing the goat from Darlene Perkins, who had more experience with farm animals.

When Perkins arrived, she saw the bleating goat on the ground in a pen with other animals, including the ram. As Perkins bent over to assist the female goat, the ram headbutted her, knocking her to the ground and breaking her arm and wrist, thus necessitating two surgeries.

Perkins sued Fillio for negligence, asserting that she was an invitee on the land.  Fillio contended that Perkins was not an invitee, and the trial court determined there was a lack of evidence regarding that key point.  However, the Court of Appeals, in the recently-decided matter of Perkins v. Fillio, 18A-PL-2278 (Ind. Ct. App. 2019), first determined that Perkins was indeed an invitee—pointing out that Fillio should have foreseen that Slate, who had previously asked others with more knowledge to help him with sick animals while watching Fillio’s livestock, would possibly invite others to the property to care for sick animals. 

Perkins also offered the affidavit of a veterinarian, opining that rams are generally territorial and tend to defend themselves, their territory and females perceived to be in their herd by headbutting unfamiliar animals or persons, tendencies sheep farmers are generally aware of.  Perkins used the affidavit to assert that Slate did not warn that a ram might be protective and territorial toward an animal which it perceived to be part of its herd.  Fillio, however, contended she could not be held liable in the absence of specific knowledge that the ram had previously been dangerous.

Nonetheless, the Court of Appeals determined that a lack of specific knowledge would not necessarily relieve a domestic animal owner of liability.  The Court stated, “Here, while Perkins did not designate any evidence that the ram had ever exhibited any dangerous tendencies of which Fillio was aware, she did designate evidence that rams, as a class, do have dangerous tendencies, at least under certain circumstances.”  This was enough evidence to generate a genuine issue of material fact so as to allow the case to be heard by a jury.

The Appellate Court finding can be extended well beyond the family farm and into other places where animals are kept or where other risks may be present.  The decision is a reminder for those who keep any variety of animal on their premises that extra care must be taken to provide warnings or to otherwise make patrons safe while visiting the property.  If you have any questions regarding this decision or the ever-evolving landscape of premises liability law, please contact any member of our Retail, Hospitality and Entertainment Facilities or our General Liability/Surplus Risks Practice Groups.

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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