In a negligence action arising from the conduct of animals, generally the owner of the animal is the person who bears responsibility for injuries to others caused by his or her pet. McCloud v. McLaughlin, 837 A.2d 541, 544 (Pa. Super. 2003). Oftentimes however, when the animal owner is a tenant, the landlord is also named as a party to the litigation. Although the standard for establishing liability is the same for attacks involving most domesticated animals, the most common case is the dog bite claim. Liability against a dog owner or landlord is not absolute in Pennsylvania. A claimant must still establish someone acted negligently. In order to establish a cause of action for negligence against a landlord for injuries caused by a tenant’s dog, a plaintiff must establish that the landlord owed a duty of care to the plaintiff, breached that duty, and that the injuries were proximately caused by the breach. Rosenberry v. Evans, 48 A.3d 1255, 1258 (Pa. Super. 2012).
An out-of-possession landlord is not responsible for attacks by animals kept by a tenant on leased property where the tenant has exclusive control over the premises. Rosenberry, 48 A.3d at 1258. A duty to use reasonable care to prevent injury will attach, however, if the landlord has actual knowledge that the animal is dangerous and had the ability to remove the animal by retaking the premises. Id. Actual knowledge of a dog’s dangerous propensities is required before a duty can be imposed upon a landlord to protect against or remove an animal housed on rental property. Id. at 1259. Although constructive notice, or the idea that the landlord should have known about the dog’s alleged propensities, is not sufficient to establish liability, a landlord’s knowledge can be inferred from the facts and circumstances surrounding the case. Palermo v. Nails, 483 A.2d 871, 873 (1984).
What is considered “dangerous” or “vicious propensities” has been defined to include “any act that might endanger the safety of the person and property of others in a given situation.” Rosenberry, 48 A.3d at 1261; citing, Groner v. Hendrick, 169 A.2d 302, 303 (1961); citing, Restatement Second of Torts Section 518(1). Notably the law makes no distinction between an animal that is dangerous from viciousness or one that is dangerous from playfulness. Rosenberry, 48 A.3d at 1261. The animal’s mood or motivation from which it inflicts harm is immaterial. Id.
A prudent landlord should be knowledgeable as to his or her tenants’ animals being housed on rental property, and take appropriate precautions should it be discovered that an animal has exhibited any action which could arguably be perceived as a dangerous or vicious propensity.
SMGG can help you navigate Pennsylvania’s dog law and animal claims from both a plaintiff and defense perspective. If you have a question about a dog bite or animal claim, please contact Erica Laughlin of Strassburger McKenna Gutnick & Gefsky’s Litigation Practice Group in Pittsburgh at firstname.lastname@example.org or (412) 281-5423.