Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Landlord's Liability for Bite by Tenant's Pit Bull

Yesterday, in Nutt v. Florio, the Mass. Appeals Court ruled on a case in which a dog bite victim sued the landlord of the owner of the dog, a pit bull. The court said "Under the common-law principles applicable here, the plaintiff cannot recover from the defendants without evidence that they knew or reasonably should have known that the dog had dangerous propensities...As a general principle, knowledge of the mere presence of the dog on the landlord's property is insufficient, as '[d]ogs are regarded by the common law as ordinarily harmless animals.'"

However, in Comm. v. Santiago, 452 Mass. 573, a criminal case, the SJC stated that the pit bull is a breed "commonly known to be aggressive."  Therefore, "while the defendants may not be held strictly liable by virtue of Tiny's breed, knowledge of that breed and its propensities may properly be a factor to be considered in determining whether the defendants were negligent under common-law principles." "Here, questions of fact exist as to Tiny's dangerous propensities as well as the defendants' knowledge of those propensities in light of the complaints claimed to have been made by the plaintiff's parents to the defendants," and so the case was remanded to Superior Court for further proceedings.