A problem that I see all too often in my practice is that of a landlord who leases a house to a “less than desirable tenant” who owns a dog that has a tendency to bite people. The dog ultimately mauls a neighborhood child or postal worker and the the unfortunate victim then calls me for assistance. I typically discover that the tenant has no liability insurance or assets to even pay for the injured person’s medical expenses. When a claim is then made against the landlord, the landlord’s response is most often, “I’m sorry, but that’s not my responsibility.” While this seems hard to believe, under existing Indiana law the landlord has no legal responsible to a innocent victim even if the landlord knows that the tenant has a dangerous dog but does nothing about it! While the tenant is liable for the actions of their dog, in many instances the tenant has no insurance or assets to pay anything to the innocent victim.
An example of Indiana law on this subject can be found in the recent case of Morehead v. Dietrich, 932 N.E.2d 1272 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010). In this case, the landlord knew that his tenant had a pit bull that had had been trained to dislike people who wore a uniform. Consequently, it was no great surprise when the dog attacked a mailman and caused significant injuries. As the tenant didn’t have any insurance, the mailman filed a lawsuit against the landlord. The mailman argued that the landlord should pay for his injuries because as the owner of the property he could simply said that no dogs were allowed or at least that the tenant could not have a dog with a vicious tendency. Despite these facts, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that the landlord had no legal responsibility for the dog’s actions because the landlord didn’t own the dog and wasn’t in possession of the house after he leased it to the tenant.
I believe this decision is wrong because it encourages landlords to ignore the danger that a tenant’s dog might pose to people who live near the tenant or who have to go on the property such as a utility or postal worker. A better rule would hold the landlord liable if they were negligent in leasing their property to someone with a vicious dog. At the very least, the landlord should require the tenant to have liability insurance and have a legal obligation to make sure the tenant actually keeps this insurance in force. If you agree with me and would like to see this law changed in the future, please call your state senator or representative and let them know your opinion.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, having a lawyer who understands the medical issues that are involved with that injury can make a big difference in convincing the liability insurance company to pay what they rightfully owe. Call the law office of James F. Ludlow for a free consultation regarding your injury and how we can help. My firm can be reached toll-free at (877) 897-9466 or by filling out the simple form on the Contact Us page.