Can I sue the landlord of the dog owner that bit me?

The question of who is responsible for the damages caused by a dog bite is a very important question. Why because even if you get a judgment against someone for a dog bite, that is you win, you may still lose if the defendant has no money. This is an important consideration when trying to collect from your neighbor who doesn’t have two cents to his name but has a dog that bit you or attacked you. If your neighbor has no money to collect from, your neighbor’s landlord may.

In Ohio if you drive a car you are legally required to have some level of car insurance. That’s not to say there still are not a bunch of folks driver uninsured (which is why you should get uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage). However there is no requirement a dog owner prove that he can cover the damages, i.e. the money owed to the plaintiff, if and when his dog attacks and bites someone before he purchases the dog. So if your neighbor wants to buy a pit bull, cane corso, or rottwelier, all he has to do is pay for the dog, poof, its his. No background checks.

So your neighbor’s pitbull, cane corso or rottweiler bites your hand causing severe damage requiring hand surgery, rehabilitation, ptsd. You are off work for a month. Your neighbor isn’t collectible. He has self-inflated net worth of billions, but only $200 to his name. What about his landlord?

Under the Ohio dog bite statute, 955.28(B) a harborer is liable for any injury, death, or loss to person or property that is caused by a dog. The landlord may be a harborer if the landlord is in possession and control of the premises where the dog lives and silently acquiesces to the dog’s presence. see Flint v. Holbrook.

The difficulty in making a landlord liability is that Ohio courts have cabined in the definition of “possession and control.” You have to define the area where the dog bite occurred, did it occur in a common area. What is a common area:

  • Areas under control of the landlord and which are reasonably necessary to the use and enjoyment of the leased property such as sidewalks, parking lots, foyers, and hallways.
  • Entire property of a rented single-family residence on a normal city sized lot is NOT a common area.
  • Porch of a rented single-family residence not considered a common area by Ohio courts

If the dog bite instead occurred in the tenant’s house, or fenced in backyard things become more difficult. In the following situations the landlord was not in possession and control of the premises where the dog bite occurred:

  • landlord not a harborer where he had keys to the premises, but never let himself into the rental property without first letting the plantiff know
  • landlord made monthly visits to inspect the rental but did not enter residence
  • landlord not in possession of control of the premises even if he had the right to force a tenant to get rid of a dog
  • Common acts of a landlord such as making repairs, paying taxes, insuring the structure do not make landlord in possession or control of the premises

Fundamentally the control necessary to make a landlord a harborer for the purpose of “control” of the property is that he must have the power and the right to admit and exclude people from the rented property. Generally when you are a landlord you don’t control who enters or leaves the rented property, the renter does.

If you have been a victim of a pitbull attack contact James Malek at Malek & Malek.