Landlord’s Common Law Duty to Alleviate Known Dangers Includes Dangers Posed By Vicious Dogs

The Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled that a landlord may be held liable for injuries caused by vicious dogs owned by its tenant.

In Giacalone v. Housing Authority of the Town of Wallingford, No. SC 18669 (Conn. Sept. 18, 2102), plaintiff tenant sued defendant landlord for injuries sustained after plaintiff was attacked by a dog owned by another tenant of defendant.  Defendant allegedly knew of the dog’s dangerous propensities, but did not have direct care of, or control over, the dog.  Plaintiff brought the claim against landlord on a common law premises liability theory.

Under Connecticut common law, knowledge of a domestic animal’s vicious propensity imposes a duty on the owner to restrain that animal, and failure to do so is treated as negligence, triggering liability for damage caused by the animal.   The rule has been changed by recent statutes, but those statutes do not address the liability of landlords.

The Connecticut Court then went on to describe the obligations of a landlord:

As a matter of well settled common law, ‘‘[i]t is, of course, the duty of a landlord to use reasonable care to keep in a reasonably safe condition the parts of the premises over which he reserves control. . . . The ultimate test of the duty is to be found in the reasonable foreseeability of harm resulting from a failure to exercise reasonable care to keep the premises reasonably safe.’’(Citations omitted.) Noebel v. Housing Authority, 146 Conn. 197, 200, 148 A.2d 766 (1959). The prevailing common-law conception of the dangerous conditions implicated in this duty, moreover, certainly is capacious enough readily to encompass threats from animals, including known vicious dogs.

The opinion includes case law from other states that reaches the same result.

 This issue was recently addressed by the Tennessee Court of Appeals in Woodson v. MEG Capital Management, Inc., 2012 WL 4335316 (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 21, 2012).  The court ruled that Tennessee law will impose liability on a landlord for injuries to a person bit by a dog owned by a tenant if the landlord has knowledge or notice of the vicious propensity of the dog and the landlord sufficiently 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.  In Woodson, the court found that the landlord had the requisite level of control because the lease authorized eviction for "dangerous" or "inappropriate" activities and retained the authority to allow or disallow the keeping of a pet.

Our firm website has more law on the Tennessee law of dog bites and attacks.