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Dog Bite Liability:  “The plaintiff approached the dog, knelt in front of him, and raised her hand in front of him. …”

A 28-year old woman (the Plaintiff), recovered $15,000.00 non-economic damages (pain and suffering), and $815.05 economic / medical expenses, after the defendant’s dog bit her.

The Court’s factual findings, based on the evidence presented at trial, include:

  • The Plaintiff was at a barbeque, where the dog was kept.
  • The dog was twelve years old, blind in one eye, and was uncomfortable with strangers.
  • The Plaintiff acknowledged that she was aware that the dog was “not friendly”.
  • All attendees, at the barbeque, were advised multiple times that the dog was not friendly and to stay away from him.
  • A specific area of the house was designated for the event. There were multiple signs warning about the defendant’s dog.  Certain areas of the house were separated from the event and “off-limits” to the guests.  These were the areas where the dog was kept, including a portion of the house which was closed, locked, and contained signs directing guests to stay away from the dog.
  • The Plaintiff’s trial testimony confirmed that she was aware of the signs.
  • The Plaintiff consumed her own beer and as a result of her beer consumption she became “buzzed” or intoxicated.
  • “The plaintiff, in spite of the warnings, and knowing full well that the dog was not friendly to strangers and was dangerous, wanted to pet the defendant’s dog. The plaintiff approached the dog, knelt in front of him, and raised her hand in front of him.  The dog bit the plaintiff and she sustained lacerations to the right eyelid…”

The dog’s owner/keeper, argued that the Plaintiff’s actions amounted to trespass, teasing, and tormenting the dog; that she was warned several times that the dog was unfriendly towards strangers, and she was sarcastic in her response, stating “Thanks for the warning, and that she had gotten the message.”

The Court, despite noting the “unusual behavior and demeanor” of the Plaintiff, concluded that “the plaintiff’s conduct did not amount to trespass, teasing and tormenting the dog”.

This Superior Court decision is based on Connecticut’s strict-liability dog-bite statute, which provides in relevant part:

“If any dog does any damage to either the body or property of any person, the owner or keeper,… shall be liable for the amount of such damage, except when such damage has been occasioned to the body or property of a person who, at the time such damage was sustained, was committing a trespass or other tort, or was teasing, tormenting or abusing such dog…”
CGS 22-357

A copy of the complete Memorandum of Decision is available here:

http://civilinquiry.jud.ct.gov/DocumentInquiry/DocumentInquiry.aspx?DocumentNo=8430096