Thursday, April 4, 2019

Dog Bite Claims Against Landlord Dismissed in Monroe County

In the case of Gallo v. Precise Moments Academy, No. 904-Civil-2018 (C.P. Monroe Co. Jan. 4, 2019 Harlacher Sibum, J.), Judge Jennifer Harlacher Sibum of the Monroe County Court of Common Pleas ruled that a landlord was not liable under state dog law or agency principles where a tenant's dog bit a child at a leased daycare facility.  

The court found that the Plaintiff failed to allege specific facts to support any claims of negligence or punitive damages against the landlord.  

According to the Opinion, the Plaintiffs were parents of a minor child who attended a daycare facility.   A dog owned by one of the tenants who ran the facility bit the minor child while she was at the daycare resulting injuries to the child’s face. 

In addition to suing the tenants, the Plaintiffs sued the landlord who owned the property on which the daycare facility was located.   The Plaintiffs alleged that the landlord negligently and recklessly maintained dangerous dogs on the daycare premises despite the substantial risk of injury to children.  The case came before the court by way of the landlord’s Preliminary Objections.  

Initially, the landlord asserted that the dog law in Pennsylvania did not apply given that the landlord was not an “owner” of the dog as required for the application of that statute which required dog owners to confine, secure or otherwise control their dogs.  

The court agreed with the landowner Defendant in this regard and noted that prior case law had held that a landlord out-of-possession, without more, was not considered the owner of a tenant’s dog under that dog law.   The court stated that the Plaintiffs presented no other facts in support of its legal conclusion assertions in the Complaint that the landlord housed and kept the dog.  

The court also agreed with the landlord Defendant’s argument that the Plaintiffs’ allegations of agency should be stricken because there were no facts to support allegations of vicarious liability.   The court noted that the Complaint did not identify any agency relationship between the landlord and its tenants.  

Judge Harlacher Sibum additionally found that the catch-all phrasing of negligence in the Plaintiff’s Complaint against the landlords was insufficient under Pennsylvania law.  

The court also agreed with the landlord Defendants’ contention that the Plaintiffs’ claims for punitive damages should be stricken for insufficient specificity where the Plaintiff failed to allege that the landlord acted with any bad motive.   The court reiterated that the landlord did not have any control over the daycare premises or any authority to regulate the tenant's pets.   

As such, Judge Harlacher Sibum concluded that the landlord’s conduct was not reckless or wanton as a matter of law.  Accordingly, the Preliminary Objections filed by the out-of-possession landlord Defendant were sustained and the claims against it dismissed.  

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.

Source: “Digest of Recent Opinions.” Pennsylvania Law Weekly (Feb. 5, 2019).

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