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Barking Up The Wrong Tree: Court Grants Owner Summary Judgment For Dog's Accident

December 12, 2013

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Typically, lawsuits involving dogs arise out of dog bites.  But a more unusual scenario arose in <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><i>Buicko v Neto</i></a>, where a dog running loose in the street caused an accident and the injured party sought to have the dog's owner held liable.

The defendants’ installed an invisible fence along the boundary of their property intended to allow their dog, Dudley, free to explore.  The dog was fitted with a collar that provided a small electric shock when the dog ventured too closely to the underground “fence.”

One day, plaintiff rode her bicycle past defendants’ home and noticed Dudley barking and zigzagging along the front boundary of the property.  Apparently, the invisible fence didn't provide much of a deterrent, as plaintiff alleged Dudley bolted from defendants’ yard directly in the path of her bicycle causing her to inadvertently strike the dog and fall.

The trial court awarded the homeowner's summary judgment, and the Appellate Division, Third Department, affirmed the dismissal finding that plaintiff submitted insufficient evidence to demonstrate that the defendants were liable.  Similar to a dog bite case, the found that the owners needed to be on notice of a propensity for similar conduct.  While recognizing that the propensity could include “a dog’s habit of chasing vehicles or otherwise interfering with traffic” and thus endangering people’s safety, the court found that there was no evidence that Dudley had a history of chasing bicycles or interfering with traffic.  A dog’s propensity to bark at traffic and run around a yard was deemed insufficient to raise a question of fact regarding the homeowner's notice for the dog's conduct here.

Thanks to Steve Kaye for his contribution to this post.

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