A Gretna mother recently filed suit for injuries sustained by her four-year-old son during an attack by a neighborhood pit bull. The plaintiff alleges that the defendant, who keeps four pit bulls in his fenced-in yard next door to the plaintiff, failed to supervise and control the dogs thereby negligently permitting them to roam the neighborhood from an opening in the fence.
The plaintiff claims that, on the day of the incident, her son was chasing their family cat around the neighborhood when he ran by the opening in their neighbor’s fence through which the dogs commonly exited the yard. As the child approached this opening, one of the pit bulls reached through the opening in the fence, biting the child and dragging him through to the neighboring yard. The child sustained scratches and lacerations to his face and skull, severe lacerations to his thigh, puncture wounds, bruises, and contusions.
Like most, if not all, jurisdictions, Louisiana recognizes negligence as a theory of liability upon a showing that the defendant (1) owed a duty of care, (2) the defendant breached the duty owed, (3) the defendant’s substandard conduct was both a cause-in-fact and legal cause of the plaintiff’s injuries, (4) actual damages. Successfully proving each of these elements establishes a prima facie case of negligence from which a plaintiff may recover for damages sustained.
Despite the fact that in this case the injuries were indisputably caused by a non-party (the dog), the plaintiff may still recover under a strict liability theory of recovery provided by Louisiana Civil Code article 2321. This article provides that “[t]he owner of an animal is answerable for the damages caused by the animal. However, he is answerable for the damage only upon a showing that he knew or, in the exercise of reasonable care, should have known that his animal’s behavior would cause damage, that the damage could have been prevented by the exercise of reasonable care, and that he failed to exercise such reasonable care.” Following the Louisiana tort reform of 1996, both the legislature and courts have appeared antagonistic towards dogs in dog bite cases. In Gonzales v. Kissner, a 2009 case involving an animal control worker who was bit, the court held that the “professional rescuer doctrine should not apply” and the “dog owner’s conduct was so blameworthy that tort recovery should be allowed…as a punishment or deterrence.” This antagonism is also reflected in the absolute liability (liability despite the owner taking all reasonable precautions) upon the owner of a dog that attacks cattle.
The focus of the claim here must be the defendant’s “unreasonableness.” That, in the exercise of reasonable care the defendant knew or should’ve known that his animals posed a danger to others. The plaintiff must also demonstrate that the dog owner either knew, or in the exercise of reasonable care should’ve known of the hole in the fence, yet still failed to make the necessary repairs. Focusing on the owner’s omissions will help to establish his liability for the dog’s actions, thereby permitting recovery for the plaintiffs.
Taking legal action is the first step to ensuring that an animal’s owner or caregiver will take the precautions necessary to prevent future animal attacks. The attorneys at Broussard & David have the expertise needed to work to make you and your family whole again for your injuries.