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Housemates Could Be Liable for Dog Bites

In most cases, a dog can make a house a home. One of the few downsides to owning a dog is the potential for liability if your dog bites a person. 

If you live in a house with dogs, you might be liable for dog bites — even if you don’t personally own the dogs. That’s according to a recent decision in New York where the court ruled that that a dog owner’s housemates could be liable for a victim’s injuries from an attack.

Who Let the Dogs Out?

The case involved three housemates and three dogs. While the dogs belonged to one of the housemates, the other two would feed them, clean up after them, and let them outside if the owner wasn’t home.

One day in 2006, the dogs escaped the backyard and attacked a four-year-old boy and his grandfather who were walking by. Fortunately, they were able to escape the dogs, but not before the boy suffered partially amputated ears. He required plastic surgery to heal his wounds.

The boy and his mother sued all three housemates, claiming they knew the dogs had “vicious, dangerous propensities,” and were therefore liable for the attack. An appellate judge agreed, finding that liability can exist in cases where the defendant “owned, possessed, harbored, or exercised dominion and control over the dog.”

No Safe Harbor

While the judge did not specifically define “harboring” when it comes to pet care, he did say that making a dog a part of a home and taking part in its care could constitute harboring. This potentially makes everyone who regularly cares for the dog legally liable if the dog bites, attacks, or otherwise causes injury to someone else.

Although this decision might seem like a stretch, courts have found pet sitters liable for injuries caused by the pets in their care. Especially in the cases where the caretakers knew the animal had vicious propensities. In this case, at least one of the housemates admitted he was aware that one of the dogs killed a neighbor’s pet rabbit.

Even if your buddy’s bulldog acts sweet in the house, you might want to keep a close eye on him and the back gate, or you could find yourself in legal trouble. If you or a loved one have been injured in an animal attack, you may want to consult with an experienced injury attorney to discuss your case.

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