Ashley was walking home with a friend when they passed three dogs in a yard. Ashley’s friend began to tease the dogs, squirting mustard at them from a bottle. One of the dogs was hit directly in the face by the mustard. The dogs began to bark and growl, and one of the dogs bit Ashley.
Ashley’s parents sued the owner of the dog on her behalf. Who do you think won?
Under Ohio law, you are responsible for any injury or property damage caused by your dog, and it does not matter whether you or the dog did anything wrong. This is called a strict liability law. The dog is considered to be “yours” if you own the dog, if you are keeping the dog for someone else, or even if you are just allowing the dog to be kept on your property.
There are very few exceptions to this rule. The rule does not apply if the other person was trespassing on your property or if he was attempting to commit a crime. It also does not apply if he was teasing, tormenting or abusing your dog on your property.
That last clause is extremely important. You are not strictly liable for injuries caused by your dog is the dog was being provoked on your property. So, if you are walking your dog down the street and a stranger kicks your dog, you are liable if your dog responds by biting the stranger. Believe it or not.
In Ashley’s case, though, this wasn’t a problem. Everyone agreed that the dogs were being teased, tormented or abused on the property of their owner. The trial court in Lorain County dismissed the case, ruling that the strict liability law did not apply.
The Court of Appeals disagreed, though. On appeal, the court ruled that the strict liability rule applied, even though the dogs were provoked, and even though the dogs were on their owner’s property. Why? Because Ashley was not the person provoking them. According to the court, the strict liability law was waived only with respect to the person who actually provoked the dogs.
So, even though the dogs were in their own yard, and even though they were provoked by having mustard squirted in their faces, the owner was still strictly liable for injuries the dogs caused to anyone other than the girl with the mustard bottle.
Even the court seemed uncomfortable with this ruling. The judge who wrote the court’s opinion admitted that this might be a flaw in the statute, but he said that it was up to the Legislature, not the courts, to fix it.
This is only one case, and it is binding only in Lorain County, but it can be used to influence the outcome in future cases throughout the state.
The current Legislature has shown that it is willing to reconsider statutes relating to “dangerous” or “vicious” dogs. Many dog lovers were pleased with the recent decision to remove pit bulls from the list of animals that are automatically considered to be vicious.
This might be a good time to ask the Legislature to take another look at the strict liability law for dog owners, as well.
Have a question or a suggestion for a topic? Email dspirgen@SpirgenLawFirm.com.
Patch posts are general discussions and should not be used as advice on any specific legal matter. If you need legal advice on a particular situation, please consult an attorney.