Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Summary Judgment for Defense Reversed in Dog Bite Case

In the case of Franciscus v. Sevdik, No. 1699 WDA 2014, 2016 Pa. Super. 52 (Pa. Super. Feb. 29, 2016 Bowes, J.), the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that the trial court erred in entering summary judgment in favor of a Defendant pet-sitter in a dog bite case.  

According to the Opinion, the Defendant pet-sitting company was walking an owner’s pitbull when the dog bit the Plaintiff’s daughter, who had asked to pet the dog.   The trial court had granted summary judgment in favor of the pet-sitting Defendants after finding that there was no evidence from which it could be inferred that the company had any knowledge of the dog’s dangerous propensities.  

The Superior Court disagreed and found that there was sufficient evidence to reasonable infer that the pet-sitting Defendants were aware of the dog’s dangerous propensities.   In so ruling, the Superior Court initially noted the law that a dangerous propensities in a dog was not limited to viciousness but, more generally, to a propensity for the dog to injure a person, whether the dog’s attack was motivated by viciousness or playfulness.  

In this matter, the court noted that the owner of the dog had filled out a form for the pet-sitting Defendant in which the owner advised that the dog be walked with a muzzle and not be walked down routes where the dog would encounter other dogs or children.   The dog did not have a muzzle on at the time of the incident and the pet-sitting company allowed the child to approach the dog at the time of the incident.

As such, the entry of summary judgment by the trial court was reversed.  

The court in Franciscus went on to note that, given that it had already resolved the issue before it, it did not need to reach the issue of whether or the trial court erred in refusing to take judicial notice of the dangerous propensities of pitbulls in general.   The Superior Court did note that Pennsylvania law did not distinguish between breeds of dog as having any particular dangerous propensities per se.   The court noted that, under Pennsylvania law, the breed of dog involved typically only comes into play after it is established that the dog at issue had already exhibited dangerous behavior.  

 The Pennsylvania Superior Court also noted that Pennsylvania courts had specifically declined to adopt the proposition of the Restatement of Torts that there be strict liability for an owner of a dog already determined to be dangerous based upon a previous incident.  

Anyone wishing to review this decision may click this Link.

Source:  “Digest of Recent Opinions.” Pennsylvania Law Weekly (March 15, 2016).



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