Dog bite expert & animal behavior specialist

Richard H. Polsky, PhD, CDBC
Los Angeles, California

“Bringing the science of animal behavior to attorneys”

Dr. Richard Polsky - The Dog Expert

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Landlord dog bite liability in a California pit bull attack

Dogs with strong aggressive tendencies towards other dogs usually present issues about landlord dog bite liability if the dog resides on the propertty of the landlord.  Unfortunately, this may not be fully realized by the owner of the dog or by the landlord of a property in which the dog is kept.  landlord dog bite liability

Such danger was recently exemplified in a fatal dog attack in California that happened in February, 2017. Seventy-six year-old Valentin Herrera was walking his Pomeranian in the late afternoon in the Lincoln Heights area of Los Angeles. Two off-leash pit bulls (possibly escapees from a rental property) attacked and killed the Pomeranian. During the incident, Herrera was pulled to the ground. His head slammed to the ground causing arm injury and serious brain damage. Sadly, Herrera died about a month later.

It may very well have been that the pit bulls had no aggressive intent towards Herrera and were only after his Pomeranian. Herrera probably was not the target of aggression of these off-leash dogs. Nonetheless, Herrera was placed in dangerous situation and it was foreseeable that he would sustain injury as a result of the actions of these off leash pit-bull dogs. A similar incident demonstrating the danger of dog-dog aggression happened on Catalina Island in Southern California. In this instance, two off-leash pit bulls pit bulls violently attacked an on-leash Jack Russell terrier and in the process “redirected” their aggression to the owner of the Jack Russell. The owner of the Jack Russell sustained serious injury and was hospitalized.  Another example, similar to the Herrera incident, is when a pit bull escapes from the property of the landlord and attacks a dog being walked on the sidewalk by its owner. The highly aroused dog might redirect its aggression to the owner when the owner intervenes in an attempt to save the his dog. Instances like these exemplify the danger of how a dog’s aggressive tendencies towards another dog pose danger to nearby people. 

From a legal perspective, a claim of negligence can be brought against an owner or landlord. In addition, criminal penalties might be imposed if the dog seriously injures or kills another dog or person. In dog bite lawsuits involving landlords, input from animal behavior expert can be helpful in determining what the landlord should have known or must have known about the danger the dog(s) presented to public safety and whether the incident was foreseeable. Questions about landlord dog bite liability are discussed elsewhere on this website. For a more in depth understanding in the specifics of landlord dog bite liability, I direct the reader to a widely cited California appellate decision, Dunchin v. Guererra (1995) 34 Cal.App.4th 1832.  Alternatively, the comprehensive website on dog bite law authored by attorney Ken Phillips provides useful information about landlord dog bite liability that happens on or near a landlord’s property.