Connecticut Dog Bite Law
A dog bite victim in Connecticut can recover compensation under a special statute and the doctrines of negligence, negligence per se, scienter, and intentional tort. The statute applies to non-bite injuries too.
Connecticut has a statute that imposes strict liability upon the owner or keeper of a dog that injures property or inflicts bodily injuries on a person. The statute also covers non-bite injuries. It contains a provision that established a legal presumption that a child under the age of 7 did not trespass or provoke the dog that attacked him. In addition to the dog bite statute, the doctrines of negligence, negligence per se, scienter, and intentional tort can be grounds for recovery of damages in this state.
Conneticut common law
"Under Connecticut common law, knowledge of a domestic animal's vicious propensity imposes a duty on the owner to restrain that animal, and failure to do so is treated as negligence, triggering liability for damage caused by the animal." Giacalone v. Housing Authority of Wallingford (2012) 51 A. 3d 352, 355.
The language of the Connecticut dog bite statute is as follows:
Sec. 22-357. Damage to person or property.
If any dog does any damage to either the body or property of any person, the owner or keeper, or, if the owner or keeper is a minor, the parent or guardian of such minor, shall be liable for such damage, except when such damage has been occasioned to the body or property of a person who, at the time such damage was sustained, was committing a trespass or other tort, or was teasing, tormenting or abusing such dog. If a minor, on whose behalf an action under this section is brought, was under seven years of age at the time the damage was done, it shall be presumed that such minor was not committing a trespass or other tort, or teasing, tormenting or abusing such dog, and the burden of proof thereof shall be upon the defendant in such action. (1949 Rev., S. 3404; 1953, S. 1842d; 1969, P.A. 439, S. 1.)
"General Statutes § 22-357 imposes strict liability on the 'owner or keeper' of a dog for harm caused by the dog, with limited exceptions. '[The] principal purpose and effect [of § 22-357] was to abrogate the common-law doctrine of scienter as applied to damage by dogs to persons and property, so that liability of the owner or keeper became no longer dependent upon his knowledge of the dog's ferocity or mischievous propensity; literally construed the statute would impose an obligation on him to pay for any and all damage the dog may do of its own volition.' Granniss v. Weber, 107 Conn. 622, 625, 141 A. 877 (1928)." Giacalone v. Housing Authority of Wallingford (2012) 51 A. 3d 352, 355-356.
If the victim was not a trespasser, not committing a tort, and not provoking the dog, there is no defense. The Connecticut courts have clarified that merely entering another person's property does not constitute trespass under this statute. "Trespass or tort" means more than mere entry; the statute bars recovery only where plaintiff is committing or intends to commit an injurious act. (133 C. 509: 140 C. 358.)
"Teasing, tormenting or abusing" a dog means engaging in actions that would naturally annoy or irritate a dog and provoke it to retaliation. Such actions are those of such a nature as would naturally antagonize the dog and cause it to attack and which are improper in the sense that they are without justification. Kowal v. Archibald , 148 Conn. 125, 128-30 (1961). Playing with the dog in a friendly manner does not fall within the definition of "teasing, tormenting, or abusing" the dog. Weingartner v. Bielak , 142 Conn. 516, 520 (1955).
To be liable, however, the defendant must be the owner, harborer or keeper of the dog. Under General Statutes § 22-327(6), a keeper is defined as ‘‘any person, other than the owner, harboring or having in his possession any dog. . . .'' A non-owner of a dog cannot be held strictly liable for damage done by the dog to another in the absence of evidence that the nonowner was responsible for maintaining and controlling the dog at the time the damage was done. Falby v. Zarembski, 221 Conn. 14. Such proof generally will consist of evidence that the nonowner was feeding, giving water to, exercising, sheltering or otherwise caring forthe dog when the incident occurred. See Falby v. Zarembski, supra, 221 Conn. at p. 19. ‘‘To harbor a dog is to afford lodging, shelter or refuge to it.'' Falby v. Zarembski, ibid. ‘‘[P]ossession [of a dog] cannot be fairly construed as anything short of the exercise of dominion and control similar to and in substitution for that which ordinarily would be exerted by the owner in possession.'' Hancock v. Finch, 126 Conn. 121, 123, 9 A.2d 811 (1939). ‘‘One who treats a dog as living at his house and undertakes to control his actions is [a] . . . keeper. . . .'' McCarthy v. Daunis, 117 Conn. 307, 309, 167A. 918 (1933); see also Buturla v. St. Onge, 9 Conn.App. 495, 497–98, 519 A.2d 1235, cert. denied, 203 Conn.803, 522 A.2d 293 (1987).
See the Civil Jury Instruction for dog bite cases in Connecticut.
The state also holds any person responsible for injuries by dogs caused by that person's negligence, provided that the victim proves that the defendant had knowledge of the dog's dangerous propensities. ‘‘Under the common law of this state, it has been held that liability for injuries committed by a vicious animal is grounded in negligence. See Ford v. Squatrito, 86 Conn. 710, 86 A. 579 (1913). It is the duty of the owner of such an animal, having knowledge of its vicious propensities, to give notice of the propensities or to restrain the animal, and that failure to do so is negligence that makes the owner liable for its consequences.'' Stokes v. Lyddy, supra, 75 Conn. App. 265–66. ‘‘[T]he plaintiff must prove that the dog had vicious propensities and that the owner or keeper had knowledge, or the means of knowledge, of them.'' Basney v. Klema, 2 Conn. Cir. Ct. 538, 544, 203 A.2d 95 (1964). A vicious propensity is any propensity on the part of a dog that is likely to cause injury under the circumstances. See 3B C.J.S. 410, supra, § 331.
"The common-law duty to restrain — and its replacement with a strict liability rule with respect to dogs — does not, however, exhaust the range of common-law theories of liability applicable to animal bites. This unremarkable fact is exemplified by Williams v. Milner Hotels Co., 130 Conn. 507, 509, 36 A.2d 20 (1944), in which the plaintiff brought a negligence action against the owner of a hotel with a known rat problem after he was bitten by a rat while staying there. The innkeeper's liability was grounded not in the absurd premise that he had a duty to restrain the offending rat, but, rather, in a general rule of premises liability, namely, that '[a]n innkeeper is required to use reasonable care to keep his inn in a reasonably safe condition for his invitees.' Id., at 511, 36 A.2d 20." Giacalone v. Housing Authority of Wallingford (2012) 51 A. 3d 352, 356.
"[T]he failure of one of the plaintiff's theories of liability, which was based on the strict liability imposed on the owner or keeper of a dog under § 22-357, did not preclude the plaintiff from potentially prevailing on a theory of commonlaw liability." Giacalone v. Housing Authority of Wallingford (2012) 51 A. 3d 352, 357.
Negligence can arise from a violation of a statute that creates a duty by declaring that certain requirements must be followed or that certain acts must not be done. Considine v. Waterbury, 279 Conn. 830, 860-61 n.16 (2006); Staudinger v. Barrett, 208 Conn. 94, 101 (1988); Pickering v. Aspen Dental Management, Inc., 100 Conn. App. 793, 802 (2007). The violation of an animal control statute pertaining to dogs being at large, trespassing, or being off leash therefore can be used to establish liability under the doctrine of negligence per se. See also the Civil Jury Instruction on negligence per se.
"[A] landlord, in exercising the . . . duty to alleviate dangerous conditions in areas of a premises over which it retains control, must take reasonable steps to alleviate the dangerous condition created by the presence of a dog with known vicious tendencies in the common areas of the property." Giacalone v. Housing Authority of Wallingford (2012) 51 A. 3d 352, 357.
A landlord can be held liable for an injury caused by a tenant's dog, provided that the landlord knew or should have known that the dog had the vicious or dangerous propensity to cause such an injury, and provided further that the injury happens on the premises owned or controlled by the landlord. Stokes v. Lyddy (2003) 75 Conn. App. 252, 267, 815 A.2d 263.
Where a vicious dog, known by the landlord to be vicious, escapes the premises of the dog owner who is renting the premises from the landlord, and injures a person, there is no liability on the part of the landlord, if the landlord is not a keeper of the dog. Morehead v. Deitrich (2010) 932 N.E.2d 1272. "[I]t is the duty of the owner and the keeper of the animal to keep him confined, and the mere possession or ownership of land from which an animal strays is not sufficient to make the landowner liable, so long as the landowner is not the keeper of such animal." Blake v. Dunn Farms, Inc., 274 Ind. 560, 413 N.E.2d 560, 563 (1980).
There is a two-prong test if a vicious dog bites a guest on the rented premises. In order to prevail against a landowner for the acts of a tenant's dog, the plaintiff must "demonstrate both that the landowner `retained control over the property' and `had actual knowledge that the [dog] had dangerous propensities.'" Jones v. Kingsbury, 779 N.E.2d 951, 953 (Ind.Ct.App.2002) (quoting Baker v. Weather ex rel. Weather, 714 N.E.2d 740, 741 (Ind.Ct.App.1999)). The absence of either component will result in a finding for the landowner. Id.
"Dog fright" as ground for liability
A "dog fright" case is one in which the dog's actions cause a person to react in a manner that results in injury to that person. Connecticut recognizes a cause of action for "dog fright." See Demers v. Rosa 102 Conn.App. 497 (2007).
Two statutes of limitations
A case brought under the dog bite statute can be filed within three years from the date of the incident. CGS 52-577. However, the dog bite statute does not apply to all cases or to all defendants. When it does not apply, the statute of limitations is only two years. CGS 52-584. An example of a case that has to be filed within two years would be a case against any non-owner of the dog or non-keeper of the dog, such as a landlord. The best practice is therefore to get the case filed not later than two years after the incident.
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