In the case of Benningfield v. Zinsmeister, et al., Jefferson Circuit Court, No. 06-CI-04201, an eight year old boy was severely injured when a Rottweiler escaped from a hole in the fence of a rented house and viciously bit the boy. The boy was on a public side walk and was not trespassing on the property at the time of the injury. Unfortunately, Kentucky dog bite lawyers like Vanessa Cantley, who represents the Benningfield family, know incidences like this are all too common in Kentcuky. The victims of dog bites are disproportionately children, and most attacks by vicious dogs occur in less affluent neighborhoods. As a result, if the wrongdoers and others who are in the best position to prevent (or insure against) such easily preventable violence cannot be held responsible for the injuries caused, the innocent child and his family end up bearing the entire burden alone. Or, as is often the case because the attacks are on children who live in poorer neighborhoods and often do not have private health insurance, the taxpayers end up bearing the costs.
The Kentucky Legislature has passed a law designed to make sure that the people best able to prevent senseless injuries to youngsters and others are held responsible for the costs when a dangerous animal is harbored and allowed to attack someone. The Kentucky law defines a dog “owner” as “every person having a right of property in the dog AND every person who keeps or harbors the dog, OR has it in his care, OR permits it to remain on or about premises owned or occupied by him.”
The landlord in the Benningfield case, who lived right next door to the leased property, was aware that his tenant harbored a dangerous breed of dog on the property and permitted the large male Rottweiler to remain on the property even though there was a hole in the fence. He did not require his tenant to carry renters insurance that would cover an attack by the Rottweiler.
While the law as drafted by the Kentucky legislature appears to be unambiguous in holding the landlord responsible in these circumstances, curiously, the Kentucky Court of Appeals has not done so, even though the statute includes as an “owner” a person who owns a premise and allows an animal to be harbored there. Louisville, Kentucky injury attorney, Vanessa Cantley, knew the case law from the Court of Appeals was against her when she took on the Benningfield family’s case. “It’s clear that the legislature intended to include the premises owner in the definition of an ‘owner’ of the dog under the statute,” said Cantley. “And, this makes sense from a public policy perspective. Unfortunately, many people who keep dangerous animal breeds on their property in residential neighborhoods aren’t the most responsible folks. They tend not to carry liability insurance,” Cantley explained.
It seems apparent that the legislature intended to give landlords a choice: either do not rent your apartment or house to someone who owns a dangerous dog, or, if you do, require them to carry renters insurance. Vanessa Cantley explained: “A landlord could purchase this insurance in the tenant’s name and include the premium in the rent, or the landlord could carry his or her own liability insurance that covers against animal attacks by dogs harbored on his or her rental property. This will hopefully lead to fewer dangerous dogs living in residential neighborhoods, and a greater likelihood that there will be insurance coverage if the dog attacks, so that the innocent child and the rest of us don’t end up picking up the tab for other people’s irresponsibility.”
Kentucky dog bite law holds the owner of a dog who causes harm strictly liable for the injury. This means that “[a]ny owner whose dog is found to have caused damage to a person . . . SHALL be responsible for that damage.” KRS 258.235(4). In Kentucky, an owner does not have to know that their dog is dangerous, the liability comes simply from owning a dog that attacks. For more on Kentucky dog bite law, click this link: Dog Bite Kentucky.