Landlords can be held liable in dog attacks

This story aired on Fox 19 news, July 17, 2012 on the 6:30 p.m. broadcast.  This video is the property of Fox 19 news.  The story was written by Gordon Graham, reporter at Fox 19 News.

It's a question of liability.

Should landlords in Kentucky be responsible if their tenants' dogs bit people? The state supreme court says yes.

The court issued its opinion following a lawsuit a Newport family. The family sued after their child, wearing a lion costume, was mauled by a boxer in July of 2009.

The court ruled the dog was too far from the rental property for the landlord to be liable in *that* case.

Supporters of this new law say it will help make the public safer.

Opponents say they know of no other cases where the landlord is treated as though he or she owns the tenant's pet.

Charles Tassell with the Greater Cincinnati Northern Kentucky Apartment Association, which represents about 1000 apartment owners in Northern Kentucky says the high court ruling has sent a chill through the ranks of their members. "The main reaction we're getting from landlords at this point is quite frankly they're saying we're not going to allow dogs."

Tassell also says the ruling goes too far. "Honestly I think this is an over reach in the sense that this is a precedent that favors trial attorneys rather than the public interest."

In our commitment to balanced news FOX19 talked with Bryan Allen who sued the landlord and the dog's owner. Allen says the ruling does serve the public interest. "We just want our neighborhoods protected and kids to be safe and to be able to run and play in costumes, you know, to do what they want and be able to enjoy themselves as children instead of being terrified by running....loose dogs and stuff."

Allen's attorney Michael O'Hara says the ruling is a good start, but doesn't go far enough because landlord is only held liable when the dog is on the property. He also says landlords should worry about the public safety rather than the affect on their business. "It may be bad for business...sometimes safety is...and you need to make a conscious decision when you go into business what's more important to you the almighty dollar or the safety of the people in your community."

Because the dog attack occurred across the street from this property the landlord was found not liable, but Bryan Fuller says he wonders where you set boundaries on a loose dog.

  Please note that Michael A. O'Hara that needs to clarify the following points in the above article:

The 7 year old boy who was attacked was named, Andrew Fuller.   His father, Bryan Fuller, sued the tenant and the landlord for the injuries to his son.   Michael A. O'Hara represents Andrew and his family in this action.  

The Kentucky Supreme Court ruling that is mentioned in the article is not for this specific case.  The subject case is Benningfield v. Zimeister.  However, the Fuller case was held in abeyance until the Benningfield case was decided.  A ruling in the Fuller case is expected shortly that will probably align with this Benningfield case ruling.

What Michael says:

Andrew was hospitalized for 3 days, which is a scary experience for a seven-year old. He got a little bit of an infection, had a whole lot of stitches, and can't get back the piece of his left ear he lost to the dog, who was not a puppy.  

Who gets paid?  The property insurer, who collected premiums, but failed to pay when there was a loss. They have the best of both worlds.  Other than that, Andrew's family must pay back almost $20,000 in medical bills before Andrew would receive any compensation for pain or suffering.

Because the dog owner bought a new truck around the same time we were awarded the judgment against her, she pays about $500 per month for the truck.  But she only pays about one-third of that, $160 a month, to satisfy this judgement.  That $160 a month goes into an account to repay the health insurer.  Neither Andrew nor his family are allowed to have any money before they repay the health insurer.

Without the landlord's insurer bearing responsibility for this, it may never be made right for Andrew.  What do you think about that now? It's not that simple.

Michael A. O'Hara