North Carolina Appeals Court Rejects Liability Claim Against Landlord for Dog Bite

When dogs cause injuries to people, it’s clear their owners can be held liable for injuries, usually through homeowners’ insurance claims.
But what if they are renters? Charlotte dog bite injury lawyers know the owners of the dog can still be held liable, and it’s possible their landlord may be held liable as well.

However, as the recent New York Court of Appeals case of Stephens v. Covington shows, the circumstances under which a landlord can be held liable are narrower than the negligence theory applied to the owner.

This case first began back in the early 1990s in Wimington, about 3.5 hours Southeast of Charlotte. An 8-year-old went to visit his friend at his home, where the family kept a pet Rottweiler named “Rocky.”

When the family first moved into the home, the landlord contacted Animal Control to inquire about what safety measures were required for keeping that type of dog. The agency advised the landlord to create a fence and post signs that warned “No Trespassing” and “Beware of Dog” outside each of the gates.

By the time the two boys were in the backyard playing that day, Rocky had grown so large, he was kept exclusively in a fenced-in area inside the fenced-in yard. The two boys entered into that fenced-in area to refill his water bowl. While the boys were inside, Rocky attacked and bit the visitor’s lower leg.

The dog’s young owner hit him with a stick, but the force was not enough to make the dog release his friend. He then ran inside to get his mother. The dog then released the boy momentarily, but then caught the boy again, this time bearing down his teeth into the boy’s shoulder. The mother came outside and managed to tear the dog away from the boy and a neighbor pulled the boy over the fence to safety.

The boy’s injuries to both his leg and shoulder were later described as “extremely severe.”

The dog was later euthanized.

In 2008, the victim reached the age of majority, and at that time, filed a complaint against both the owners of the animal, as well as the landlords. However, one of the landlords passed away, so that complaint was voluntarily dismissed without prejudice. However, he refiled the complaint, naming only the female landlord.

A court would later award the young man $500,000 in compensatory damages from the dog’s owners.

However, the landlord moved for a summary judgment in her favor, which the court granted. The plaintiff appealed, asserting there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the defendant had control over the animal that attacked him.

However, the court disagreed.

The plaintiff based his argument on the 2004 ruling in Holcomb v.Colonial Assocs., L.L.C. . In that case, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled a landlord can be held liable for the negligence of a tenant’s dog when that animal injures a third party. But there are stipulations. In that scenario, it was a contractor who sustained injuries when a tenant’s Rottweiler lunged at him and caused him to tumble to the ground. This occurred after the the landlord had allowed the tenant to keep that dog and another, both running freely on the property, despite two known prior instances of aggression on the part of both dogs – one of which included a bite.

Using a premises liability theory of negligence, the court in that case indicated the landlord could be held liable because certain lease provisions granted the landlord sufficient control to remove danger posed by the tenant’s dogs.

Additionally, the plaintiff in this case – contrary to the plaintiff in the Holcomb case – failed to show that Rottweilers were inherently dangerous or that the defendant knew this particular dog was inherently dangerous prior to this attack. Therefore, there was no indication the defendant possessed any sufficient control to remove the dog.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Stephens v. Covington, Feb. 18, 2014, North Carolina Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries:
Peter v. Vullo et al – NC Appellate Court Weighs Medical Malpractice Appeal, June 7, 2014, Charlotte Dog Bite Injury Lawyer Blog

Contact Information