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Dog Bite Liability: Strict Liability v. Negligence (Boswell v. Steele II)

Is a dog owner is strictly liable for injuries caused by a dog bite or must a victim of a dog bite prove that the dog owner was negligent?  The Idaho Court of Appeals begins its analysis by restating that, under the common law, a dog owner is liable for injuries caused by a dog bite if the owner knew that the dog was dangerous.  “The Idaho Supreme Court ‘adopted a rule that an owner of a domesticated animal will be liable for injuries it causes if the owner had prior knowledge, or should have known, of the animal’s dangerous propensity. It is the elements of the cause of action that are significant, not a label of strict liability or negligence.’”  The court addressed this holding in light of the instructions from the Restatement of Torts.

“The elements of liability for domestic animals set forth in Boswell mirror the elements of strict liability for abnormally dangerous animals set forth in RESTATEMENT (THIRD) OF TORTS: LIABILITY FOR PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONALHARM§ 23 (2010). The Restatement provides: ‘An owner or possessor of an animal that the owner or possessor knows or has reason to know has dangerous tendencies abnormal for the animal’s category is subject to strict liability for physical harm caused by the animal if the harm ensues from that dangerous tendency.’”

The court further addressed whether comparative fault is applied to strict liability dog bite claims and followed the approach in the Restatement of Torts:

“The defense of comparative negligence, in relation to common law strict liability dog-bite actions, is therefore limited to the plaintiff’s ‘contributory negligence in knowingly and unreasonably subjecting himself to the risk’ that an abnormally dangerous animal posed to him. RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS § 515 (1977). Provocation would thus subject a plaintiff to the defense of comparative negligence. See RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS § 515 cmt. e (1977). On remand, the district court should instruct the jury based on I.C. § 6-801’s modified comparative negligence scheme, subject to the limitation that the comparatively negligent act must have consisted of voluntarily and unreasonably encountering a known danger; e.g., by provoking the animal. RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS § 515 cmt. c (1977).

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