Negligence standard, not strict liability, applies in Kentucky dog bite case

by Mandy Hicks

There is no question that some dogs are more dangerous than others, or that almost any dog is capable of an attack under the right circumstances. What responsibility should the owner of a dog with dangerous propensities – or the owner of any dog, for that matter – have toward the general public?

A Kentucky appellate court addressed this issue recently in a case in which a woman was severely injured by a pack of dogs during a hunting trip.

Facts of the Case

In the case of Maupin v. Tankersley, the plaintiff was a woman who was attacked by a group of dogs while walking across the defendant’s property to reach her vehicle after a hunting expedition on neighboring property in September 2009. The woman’s injuries from the dogs’ attack were so severe that she had to be flown to a hospital for treatment. In 2010, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the defendant, alleging that he should be held strictly liable for her injuries. The case proceeded to trial in 2015. Both the plaintiff and the defendant filed motions for a directed verdict.

The trial court denied both motions and sent the case to the jury. Although the plaintiff had requested an instruction to the effect that the defendant was strictly liable for her injuries if the jury found that he was the owner of the dogs that attacked her, the trial court instead instructed the jury on the negligence standard of liability requested by the defendant. The jury found that the defendant did own the dogs in question but did not find that he had failed to exercise ordinary care in controlling the dogs, since he had no reason to believe that the plaintiff was going to be in the vicinity of the dogs at the time of the event giving rise to the litigation. Accordingly, the jury’s verdict favored the defendant, and the plaintiff appealed.

Decision of the Commonwealth of Kentucky Court of Appeals

The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s decision to instruct the jury on negligence, rather than strict liability. The plaintiff argued that Kentucky Revised Statutes § 258.235(4) imposes strict liability upon a dog’s owner for any injuries that the dog inflicts, but the court disagreed. Although prior case law held that the statute was intended to broaden the responsibilities of those who keep dogs, the Kentucky courts have consistently applied a general negligence principle in determining dog owner liability. Since the defendant herein owned a sizable property, and he was not aware that the plaintiff was on his land, the court agreed that the defendant was not liable under the circumstances.

In so holding, the court reiterated that the proper inquiry was whether the defendant had reason to anticipate the plaintiff’s presence or failed to exercise ordinary care in controlling his dogs for the safety of others.

If You Need to Talk to a Lawyer About a Personal Injury Case

When a person is injured because of the negligence of another individual (or a business or branch of the government), it may be possible for the injured person to receive compensation from the responsible party if he or she can prove negligence. If you have been hurt and need to talk to a lawyer about whether you have a case, the Kentucky dog bite and product liability attorneys at English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley in Bowling Green are here to help. Call us for a free, confidential case evaluation at (270) 781-6500. We are currently reviewing negligence cases throughout both Kentucky and Tennessee.

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