Taking the Bite out of Defendant Shopping

In a recent decision in Lamarre v. Rando-Ellis, et al., No. 226-2018-CV-00047, the Hillsborough Superior Court, Southern District (Temple, J.), affirmed the limitations of a landlord’s duty of care relative to attacks on third parties by a tenant’s dog.  Rando-Ellis lived by herself at a home owned by her mother and step-father.  She was the owner and keeper of three dogs.  Two of the dogs escaped onto the neighboring property and attacked the neighbor, causing injuries.

Applying the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s precedent in Richards v. Leppard, 118 N.H. 666 (1978), the Court held that despite the landowners’ alleged knowledge that the dogs were vicious, they were not liable under a common law negligence claim for injuries caused by the tenant’s dogs.  The Court also noted that apart from Richards, the vast majority of jurisdictions hold that a landlord is not liable for injuries caused by a tenant’s dog off the leased premises.  Even though the Court had to assume for purposes of a motion for summary judgment that the landowners knew the dogs were vicious, there was no allegation that they knew or should have known that the dogs were likely to escape the premises, which included a fenced-in yard, and cause harm.

The Court therefore granted summary judgment in favor of the landlords.  This is an important precedent for the scenario where a tenant’s dog does the biting, but the landlord has the only available insurance policy.

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