Brief Summary: A landlord can be liable for injuries to a
third-person by a dog owned by their tenant if (1) the landlord has knowledge
of the vicious propensity of the dog, and (2) the landlord had “sufficient
retained control” over the leased premises to require removal or safe restraint
of the dog.
Analysis: The recent Tennessee Court of Appeals decision
of George Woodson and Flora Woodson v. MEG Capital Management,
Inc., et al, No. 2011-02513-COA-R3-CV, 2012 WL 4335316 (Tenn. Ct. App.
September 21, 2012) discussed the potential liability of a landlord for
a dog attack. The situation in question
involved an attack involving the landlord's property that was rented to the
tenant. Woodson at 1. The
plaintiff walked by the property when two pit-bull dogs owned by the tenant escaped
from the fenced-in back yard and attacked the plaintiff. Woodson at 1. He
sustained significant injuries and over $200,000.00 in medical bills. Woodson at 1. The
question in this case was whether the landlord could be found responsible for the
attack under these circumstances.
The Tennessee Court of Appeals found a landlord could
be liable for an attack caused by their tenant's dog under certain
circumstances. The court specifically
found as follows:
To hold a landlord liable for
injury to a third person by a dog owned and kept by a tenant, two prongs must
be proven with respect to the landlord: (1) knowledge or notice of the vicious
propensity of the dog, and (2) sufficient retained control over the leased
premises to afford an opportunity for the landlord to require the tenant to
remove the dog or safely restrain it.
Woodson at 2. (citing Gilliland ex rel. Gilliland v. Pinkley,
No. 2009-00982-COA-R3-CV, 2001 WL 557985, at *3 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 23, 2001)). This decision went on to provide a lengthy
discussion of prong number (1) pertaining to the facts that support a
contention that the defendant has knowledge or notice of a dogs "vicious
propensity." Woodson at 2 – 8.
This discussion is an excellent source for a detailed factual breakdown
of this issue. It is too lengthy to go
into detail in this post, however, the general conclusion is that when there
are factually differing opinions about the “vicious propensity” of a dog, then
generally it is a fact question for the jury to decide. Woodson at 8.
The second prong for holding a landlord
liable for a tenant’s dog’s actions is whether the landlord had
"sufficient retained control" over the dog. Woodson at 2.
The lease in this particular case between the landlord and tenant was
silent on animal issues. Woodson at 10. The
landlord argued that because the lease did not have any provision that
expressly provided the landlord with authority to require the tenants to remove
their dog or safely restrain them, then the landlord did not have “sufficient
retained control” over the dogs. Woodson at 9, 10.
The court found this argument had no merit because the lease did have
general provisions that allowed the landlord to evict tenants based on their
engagement in "dangerous" or "inappropriate
activities." Woodson at 10.
As a result, the Court found that based on this language in the lease
agreement the landlord did have the power to evict the tenant under certain
circumstances and if the tenant’s dogs presented a dangerous condition then
presumably the landlord had the right to evict them. Woodson at 10.
As a result, the second prong for holding a landlord liable for a
tenant’s dog attack was met in this case.