What if your child was attacked or bitten by a tenant’s dog? Who should be held responsible? Is it the tenant, the landlord or both? The answer is clear in the decision rendered in Benningfield v. Zinsmeister (367 S.W.3d 561, Ky.2012). In this case, the Kentucky Supreme Court held that a landlord is strictly liable for dog bites by the tenant’s dog that happen on or about the leased premises.
The Supreme Court changed the rulings of the trial court and the Court of Appeals. The trial court said that the landlord may not be held liable because the dog attack happened off the leased premises. Likewise, the Court of Appeals added that the landlord would also have to know the dangerous propensities of the dog in order to be liable for the attack. However, with the recent decision of the Supreme Court, landlords may be liable.
KRS 258.235(4) states that “any owner whose dog is found to have caused damage to a person, livestock or other property shall be responsible for that damage.” Moreover, KRS 258.095(5) defines an owner when applied to the proprietorship of a dog as "every person having a right of property in the dog and every person who keeps or harbors the dog, or has it in his care, or permits it to remain on or about premises owned or occupied by him.” Dura lex, sed lex. The law is harsh, but it is the law and the law clearly states that owners are strictly liable for accidents or injuries caused by their dog. This means that whether or not the owner acted in good faith or had no idea that the dog acted dangerously, they are held responsible. However, an exception to this rule is when the person injured was found out to be provoking the dog’s behavior such as trespassing or hitting.
The impact of the SC ruling
Since landlords may be held liable for dog bites, or related accidents, this will likely trigger them to prohibit tenants from having dogs on leased premises. However, would this help in reducing dog bite fatalities and injuries? If we really want to prevent a dog bite, we should do our part in preventing ourselves from becoming a victim.
On the third full week of May, we will be observing the National Dog Bite Prevention Week. As a Kentucky Personal Injury Attorney, I encourage everyone, whether you’re a dog owner or a landlord, to ensure that our loved ones are safe from dog bites. The first place to start is to take good care of our pet dogs.