PHA Not Liable for Resident's Dog Bite Injuries
Facts: A resident sued the local PHA for injuries she suffered when another resident’s dog bit her. The other resident had acquired the dog, a pit bull, in late 2009. The suing resident described the dog as aggressive and vicious, barking at her ferociously, and jumping on the chain-link fence to snarl at anyone who passed by. But the dog’s owner kept the dog in a fenced area, and the suing resident never confronted her about it. Animal Control records showed that in July 2010, the resident called to report a dog “running loose,” but the dog wasn’t reported as vicious.
In October 2010, the resident saw the dog on the loose and it bit her upper leg and didn’t let go until she struck its head with a bucket. The resident claimed that the PHA failed to “monitor” its premises for risks and hazards, failed to require the dog’s owner to keep the dog in a secured area, and allowed the dog owner to continue to maintain an animal “known to attack without provocation.”
The PHA denied liability and asserted that its lease prohibited residents from keeping animals in their unit, with certain exceptions not applicable to this case and, in all events, subject to approval by the PHA. The PHA claimed that the dog’s owner signed the lease but never got approval to keep a dog, she was in breach of her lease, and the PHA had no knowledge of her pit bull.
The resident stated that on several occasions PHA personnel, wearing uniforms and riding in a marked truck, did maintenance work at the dog owner’s unit, but they would never enter the backyard until the dog owner picked up the pit bull and carried it inside.
A PHA executive testified that he had no knowledge of the pit bull until it bit the resident. He clarified that his employees came to perform maintenance, not to enforce pet policy, and they had no duty to report unless the animal was acting viciously or aggressively. The PHA called no maintenance workers to confirm or refute seeing the dog.
The trial court found that the PHA had a duty to protect the resident, and the dog had aggressive behavior. The court accepted the resident’s testimony that PHA employees had seen the dog, and thus, the PHA had actual knowledge of its viciousness. The PHA appealed.
Ruling: A Louisiana appeals court ruled in favor of the PHA and reversed the lower court’s ruling.
Reasoning: The court found that the facts didn’t support the lower court’s finding of actual knowledge on the part of the PHA. Although the resident established that the dog barked a lot and clawed at the fence with its paws, there’s no evidence that it ever bit or attacked anyone before this incident. There’s also no evidence that the resident ever reported the dog to the PHA, and the one time the resident notified Animal Control, she called it a stray, not a vicious animal. The resident also testified that the dog’s owner carried the dog inside when the PHA’s maintenance men called, and the PHA executive testified without contradiction that his employees weren’t tasked with enforcing pet policy or inspecting for technical violations of the lease. Therefore, the court found that the evidence didn’t approach the threshold showing of actual knowledge required to impose landlord liability under state law.
- Odom v. Fair, August 2014