The Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal recently analyzed a summary judgment motion granted in favor of a landlord and his insurance company after a tenant was attacked by another neighbor’s dog. The plaintiff in this case alleged that the landlord knew or should have known of the presence of the dog and the dog’s dangerous propensities, and the landlord moved for summary judgment. The appellate court reviewed whether the plaintiff had met her burden of showing there was a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether the landlord knew of dogs on the property or knew of the animal’s dangerous propensities.
In this case, Marie Coburn suffered injuries after being attacked by a dog owned by Ms. Dixon, her neighbor. Ms. Coburn brought a lawsuit against Ms. Dixon and her landlord, Elton Bernard, as well as Mr. Bernard’s insurance company, American Empire. Ms. Coburn alleged in her petition that Mr. Bernard failed to warn of the dangerous propensities of the dog, failed to eliminate the danger of the animal on premises over which he had control, and failed to require his tenant to restrain the dog.
American Empire and Mr. Bernard moved for summary judgment on the ground that Mr. Bernard did not know of the existence of the dog on his leased property. He also stated he did not know of the dog’s dangerous propensities. In response, Ms. Coburn argued the lease allowed Mr. Bernard to inspect the leased premises, and if he had inspected them, he would have known the dog was on the property. The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment, finding that Ms. Coburn had been provided time to schedule the deposition of Mr. Bernard and that there was no genuine issue of material fact regarding Mr. Bernard’s knowledge about the dog that attacked Ms. Coburn.
The appellate court stated that under Louisiana law, Ms. Coburn was required to prove that as the owner of a building, Mr. Bernard was liable for any “vice or defect” in the building that caused harm if he knew or should have known of the condition. But the presence of a dog belonging to a tenant does not constitute a vice or defect of the premises. The appellate court also stated that the strict liability that can be imputed to a dog owner under Louisiana law cannot be imputed to a non-owner, including a landlord. Under a negligence theory of law, the landlord could still be liable to the injured party if the plaintiff shows the landlord had actual knowledge of the dog’s vicious propensity.
Here, there was no evidence Mr. Bernard had knowledge of dogs on the property leased to Ms. Dixon. It was not shown that he knew of the animal’s dangerous propensities. Ms. Coburn contended that evidence suggested Mr. Bernard should have known there were dogs on the property. But the appellate court here held that the evidence she pointed to was in fact conjecture, such as the fact that since the police department had been called to the premises due to complaints of dogs barking, Mr. Bernard must have known there were dogs on the property.
Ms. Coburn also had argued that a decision on the summary judgment motion should have been delayed so that she could depose Mr. Bernard. The hearing on the summary judgment motion had taken place 15 months after the suit was filed, and eight weeks after the motion for summary judgment was filed. The appellate court stated that Ms. Coburn had ample opportunity to schedule Mr. Bernard’s deposition, or to move to continue the case. The appellate court stated that the trial court’s refusal to delay ruling on the summary judgment motion was not an abuse of discretion.
The appellate court affirmed the trial court judgment granting summary judgment in favor of Mr. Bernard and American Surplus.
The injury attorneys at Lavis Law represent Louisiana residents in their personal injury claims for compensation following an accident. Our office provides a free, confidential consultation and can be reached by calling 866.558.9151.
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