NC court: Landlord not liable for tenants’ violent dog
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A landlord can’t be held liable for a child’s injuries caused by a dog owned by tenants because he wasn’t told the animal posed a danger to visitors, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Friday.
The court unanimously upheld lower court rulings siding with John Johnson III following a 2015 attack on a 7-year-old boy while he played with the tenants’ children. The boy suffered severe injuries when the dog bit his face as he walked within the radius of the dog’s chain.
The tenants, Raymond Craven and Stacie Talada, had decided to put the dog, named Johnny, on the chain when children came to play on the Johnston County rental property after another youth suffered a minor injury from the dog months before, according to the opinion. They also bought three “beware of dog” signs.
The mother of the 7-year-old boy sued the landlord and the tenants for damages over the injuries.
While Talada initially wrote in unsworn answers that she had told Johnson about the first bite before the 2015 attack, she and Craven later testified that they hadn’t alerted Johnson to what had happened. Johnson also said he wasn’t made aware of prior problems involving a dog of the tenants.
Johnston County Animal Services determined at the time of the first injury that it was a “minor bite” and that the dog didn’t meet the state definition of a “dangerous dog” or “potentially dangerous dog.”
The trial court ruled in favor of the landlord, and a majority on a state Court of Appeals panel affirmed that decision.
A deposed property management expert had testified for the plaintiff that a landlord has a duty to examine potential problems if the landlord sees a “beware of dog” sign, calling it a “flashing red light.”
But posted signs and the chain in the yard aren’t enough under the law for the landlord to know that the dog posed a danger, Chief Justice Paul Newby wrote for the court.
The plaintiff’s “theory has no basis in our case law,” Newby wrote. “Evidence of such precautions alone is not sufficient to give a reasonable landlord constructive notice that his tenant is harboring a dog with dangerous propensities.”