A recently decided case in North Carolina provides some guidance to landlords regarding their potential liability to a third party harmed by the pet of a tenant. (Note- I refer you to an attorney in one of our N.C. offices for consultation in a specific case).
In Curlee by & through Becerra v. Johnson, 856 S.E.2d 478 (N.C. 2021), a “[c]hild, who had incurred severe injuries after he was bitten by dog, brought negligence action, by and through his mother, against dog owners and owners’ landlord, seeking to recover for injuries.” Id. On appeal, the Court upheld the court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the landlord.
In North Carolina, to prevail in an ordinary negligence claim, a plaintiff has the burden to prove, ,
(1) that there has been a failure to exercise proper care in the performance of some legal duty which the defendant owed to the plaintiff under the circumstances in which they were placed; and (2) that such negligent breach of duty was a proximate cause of the injury.
Id. at 481.
The dog in question in this case had apparently bitten a child previously, but there was insufficient evidence presented that the landlord had been informed about this history. Applying a test set forth in another dog biting case, Holcomb v. Colonial Assocs., L.L.C., 358 N.C. 501, S.E.2d 710 (2004), the Court held here that the plaintiff failed to establish both,
(1) that the landlord had knowledge that a tenant’s dog posed a danger; and
(2) that the landlord had control over the dangerous dog’s presence on the property in order to be held liable for the dog attacking a third party.
Curlee by & through Becerra v. Johnson, 856 S.E.2d 478, 482 (N.C. 2021).
Concerns about dog bites have escalated following the increased placement of dogs from shelter and rescue organizations where the dogs behavioral background and tendencies may not be known or provided to adopters. Hence, landlords should become familiar with governing laws regarding their duty to third party victims of dog bites owned by their tenants.