When a 13-year-old boy suffered serious injuries after he was attacked by a pit bull, his mother sought to hold several parties accountable. One of those was her landlord. The owner of the dog was both a tenant of the same rental property, as well as an employee who worked as an on-call maintenance and property management services worker.
This unique situation, weighed recently by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, meant that claims against the landlord could be predicated on two separate legal theories: Premises liability and vicarious liability/ respondeat superior. Premises liability refers to the duty of a property owner/ manager to ensure the site is reasonably safe for those who are there lawfully. Landlords owe a duty of care to both tenants and visitors. Vicarious liability with regard to the employer-employer relationship is predicated by the doctrine of respondeat superior, which is Latin for “let the master answer.” It holds that employers may be liable for the negligent actions of their employees – even if the employer wasn’t personally negligent.
In this case, plaintiff lived in her apartment with her 13-year-old son, who was invited by his neighbor’s girlfriend’s daughter to come swim in the neighbor’s pool. That neighbor was also the maintenance worker employed by the landlord. Landlord was reportedly aware his employee/ tenant kept a dog, but had no reason to believe the dog was dangerous. When the two young teens went into the fenced back yard where the pool was located, the employee/ tenant exited his rear door to the back yard, alongside his dog. Continue reading