Friday, November 11, 2022

Summary Judgment Motion by Out-of-Possession Landlord Defendants Denied in Dog Bite Case

In the case of Eggleston v. Richards, No. 10753 of 2019, C.A. (C.P. Lawr. Co. Sept. 29, 2022 Motto, P.J.), the court granted in part and denied in part a Motion for Summary Judgment in a dog bite case. As part of its decision, the court struck the Plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages.

According to the Opinion, the Defendants were out-of-possession landlords who asserted that they could not be held liable for the injuries sustained by the minor Plaintiff because the Defendants did not have actual knowledge of the dog’s alleged dangerous propensities. They also moved for summary judgment on the Plaintiff’s claims for punitive damages as there was, according to the defense, no evidence of any evil motive or outrageous conduct.

The dog involved was a pit bull named “Smoke” who was owned by a tenant of the Defendants. According to the Opinion, the landlord Defendants were aware that the dog was on the premises.

With regard to the subject incident, the minor Plaintiff was walking in an alley near the property when the pit bull chased the minor in to the woods while biting the minor’s arm and leg, requiring stitches and other medical care for the Plaintiff thereafter.

The court reviewed the law of Pennsylvania regarding the liability of landlords out-of-possession in dog bite cases.

The court found that there were issues of material fact that existed as to whether the landlord out-of-possession had knowledge of the dog’s alleged aggressiveness or propensity to viciousness.  As such, the summary judgment motion was denied in this regard.

According to the record before the court, the landlord visited the premises on numerous occasions and was able to view the dog’s behavior. 

It was noted that, during one incident, when the landlord approached the residence, the dog ran towards the door and was barking, which caused the landlord to step backwards. It was also noted that the tenant would keep the dog away from the landlord for the landlord’s safety whenever the landlord visited the premises. 

There was also evidence that there was a prior incident involving the same dog. Whether or not the landlord Defendant was aware of that prior incident, the court noted that it was otherwise admitted that the landlord and the tenant had numerous conversations in general about the dog.

With regards to the court’s granting of summary judgment relative to the punitive damages claim given the absence of any evidence of evil motive or outrageous conduct, the court noted that the Plaintiff had acknowledged that there was insufficient evidence to allow for an award of punitive damages. As such, the Plaintiff had stipulated that the claim for punitive damages should be stricken.

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

I send thanks to Attorney Dale Larrimore of the Philadelphia law firm of Larrymore and Farnish, LLP, for bringing this case to my attention.

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