Wednesday, October 28, 2009

California to fund right to counsel for civil matters

California became the first state in the nation to adopt a broad policy to fund the right to counsel for certain civil cases, deemed to be basic human needs. It will be funded by an increase in court fees, and be expended through legal aide groups and grants. While it is a pilot project, actually becoming a working project in 2011, it's goals are high. It is also aimed at encouraging lawyers to meet the pro bono requirements for attorneys in the state. It will likely cover areas such as fighting eviction, loss of child custody, domestic abuse or neglect of the elderly or disabled, and has identified child custody as a key issue. It addresses "...the substantial inequities in timely and effective access to justice that often give rise to an undue risk of erroneous decision because of the nature and complexity of the law and the proceeding or disparities between the parties in education, sophistication, language proficiency, legal representation, access to self-help, and alternative dispute resolution services." The Sargent Shriver Civil Counsel Act was signed by Governor Schwarzenegger last week. Read the LA Times here and the Wall Street Journal here. For information on how Massachusetts deals with the issue of unrepresented litigants, see our Pro Se page here.

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.