On Thursday, May 12, Vanessa Cantley, attorney and partner with Bahe Cook Cantley & Nefzger PLC, argued to the Kentucky Supreme Court on behalf of dog bite victims across the Commonwealth. Her argument makes the first time the new dog bite laws, found in Kentucky Revised Statutes Chapter 258, will be interpreted by Kentucky's highest court.
Vanessa argued that the plain language of KRS Chapter 258 holds a landlord who permits a dog to remain on rental property he/she owns strictly liable for any damages "caused by the dog." The landlord would be jointly and severally liable will all other statutorily-defined owners of the dog for damages the dog causes. However, if the landlord does not permit the dog on the property, then the landlord is not liable under this statute; nor would the landlord, or any other statutory "owner," be liable for injuries caused by anything other than dog - i.e. damages caused by the Plaintiff him/herself.
Vanessa's client, 8 year-old Brandon Benningfield, was walking home from a neighbor's house when a Rottweiler dog got out from under a fence at a rental home, ran across the street, and mauled Brandon on the sidewalk, tearing the flesh from his scalp, face, arms and legs. The dog was kept in the backyard of the rental house with several other Rottweilers and had gotten out of the yard on several occasions. The landlords lived right next door to their rental property and also knew the dog was getting out, but never moved to evict the tenants or otherwise have the dogs removed.
Brandon's claims against the landlords were dismissed by the trial court, because a case in Kentucky (Ireland v. Raymond) says that landlords cannot be held liable for attacks that occur off the rental premises. Vanessa has asked the Kentucky Supreme Court to overturn that case and allow the claims against the landlords in Brandon's case to go forward and, further, to clarify a landlords liability in all dog attack cases.
Vanessa has represented dozens of dog bite victims. Unfortunately, the typical scenario involves a dog attack by a tenant's dog and the tenant has no financial means to cover the victim's damages and no insurance. The landowner/landlord permits the dog to be on the property and carries insurance, but the insurance company denies liability (and payment) based on the way the dog bite laws have been interpreted by our courts. This leaves the innocent victim, and often Kentucky's taxpayers (when the victim in uninsured) holding the bag.
The Kentucky legislature presumably recognized this injustice and enacted KRS Chapter 258. We at Bahe Cook Cantley & Nefzger PLC hope that the Kentucky Supreme Court also recognizes this injustice and interprets the law as written - for Brandon Benningfield and all other innocent victims of dog attacks.