Dog Bite | Animal Behavior Expert Witness For Attorneys

Richard H. Polsky, Ph.D. CDBC
Los Angeles, California

“Bringing the science of animal behavior to attorneys”

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CA verdict of $247K for plaintiff startled by off-leash dog

Owners need to maintain control over their dog even when the dog remains on the owner’s property.

Dog owners can liable for the injuries their off-leash dog inflicts onto a person even if the dog remains on the property and even if the dog does not bite or knock down a person.

This was the verdict a Los Angeles County jury rendered  in an incident in which a retired 69-year-old lady fell because she was startled by defendant’s dog. As a result of being startled, the plaintiff fell to the ground and fractured her wrist. The plaintiff was was walking her dog on the sidewalk in front of the defendants home.

The jury awarded awarded $247,000 to the plaintiff due to the negligence of the defendant (Francis v. Sullivan, Los Angeles Superior Court / BC614012).

The plaintiff’s argument was straightforward: the defendant’s dog was unleashed in an unfenced front yard, and the dog charged the plaintiff and her dog and although no contact was made the plaintiff startled and fell.

The plaintiff argued that the defendant’s dog should have been leashed and under proper control. The defense argued there was no liability by the defendant because their dog never left the front yard and that no contact was made with the plaintiff nor was the plaintiff bitten. In addition, the defense argued the leash attached to plaintiff’s dog wrapped around her legs and this caused her fall, rather than being startled.

Certain dogs need to be controlled in certain circumstances to ensure public safety even when the dog remains on the property of the owner!

The bottom line: Dog owners need to control their dog even when their dog remains on their property. This is particularly true in certain circumstances.  Namely, an unfenced front yard abutting a public sidewalk. In the case mentioned above, the defendant’s should have realized that mishap was possible. They should have known that people would be walking their dogs on the sidewalk abutting their yard, and that if their dog was off-leash he might charge (and scare) a person walking their dog.

I suspect that the defendant’s dog was more focused on the plaintiff’s dog rather than the plaintiff.  The defendant’s dog may have possessed strong reactive tendencies to unfamiliar dogs walking past the property (whether for play or to fight). And these tendencies in certain dogs in certain contexts (e.g. an owner’s unfenced front yard as in the above example) can pose a risk to public safety.