In Wisconsin, keepers and owners of dogs, as defined by statute, are strictly liable for injuries caused by a dog attack. If the dog has attacked and injured someone previously the damages are doubled. The injured victim or victim’s family must prove only that the dog was owned or kept by a person and that the dog injured someone. In those situations, the owner or keeper of the dog is strictly liable.
Recently, the Court of Appeals declined to extend this liability to a landlord. In Ladewig v. Tremmel, et. al (http://www.wicourts.gov/ca/opinion/DisplayDocument.pdf?content=pdf&seqNo=66067) (2010AP1925, June 16, 2011), the Court of Appeals confirmed the general liability rule in Wisconsin that a landlord is not liable for injuries caused by a tenant’s dog, unless the landlord is an owner or keeper of that dog as defined by the statute.
The Ladewigs were seeking an exception to a rule arguing that the landlords in their case voluntarily assumed the duty to third parties through a lease provision that prohibited the tenants from keeping “vicious dogs” on the leased property.
In Ladewig, tenants had a lease that prohibited having a vicious dog on the property. The tenants owned a pitt bull. The tenants invited a 7-year old neighbor to their property and the 7-year old was attacked and injured by the pitt bull. The family of the 7-year old sued the landlord for negligence for failing to exercise reasonable care and enforcing their lease provision prohibiting vicious dogs.
Ultimately, the Court of Appeals agreed with the lower court’s decision dismissing the landlord from the lawsuit on public policy grounds. The general rule in Wisconsin has been that landlords are not liable for injuries caused by a tenant’s dog. The Ladewigs argued for an exception claiming that the lease provision prohibiting vicious dogs warranted the court to modify the law as it applied to their case. Ultimately, the Court of Appeals agreed that landlords are not liable for injuries caused by a tenant’s dog. Just because the landlord did not enforce the lease provision did not qualify them as owners or keepers of the dog and they were not responsible for the injuries.
Reading between the lines, the tenants most likely had no liability insurance while the landlord had liability insurance. The tenants most likely did not have sufficient assets warranting the expense of obtaining a judgment against them for the injuries that their dog caused this innocent 7-year old. No doubt, the tenants were responsible for their dog’s attacks under Wisconsin law.
The case is a good example that dog bite cases are controlled by Wisconsin statute and an experienced attorney needs to be immediately consulted if you, a family member or a loved one are injured by a dog. It does not necessarily have to be a dog bite but can be an attack or any aggressive action by the dog causing injury. Often times, prompt investigation can reveal that the dog has caused injury in the past allowing you to recover double damages.
If you, a loved one or family member have been injured by a dog whether in Dane County, Sauk County, Madison, Baraboo or any other location in the State of Wisconsin please contact the attorneys at Krueger Hernandez & Thompson SC. We have been representing victims of dog attacks and bites for more than 26 years and represent people throughout the State of Wisconsin.
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