The Lawletter Vol. 43 No. 2
A decision by the Supreme Court of Idaho illustrates the difficulties that a guest of a residential tenant may face when trying to hold the tenant's landlord liable for injuries sustained by the guest when the guest was bitten by the tenant's dog. See Bright v. Maznik, 162 Idaho 311, 396 P.3d 1193 (2017). In Bright, a guest of the tenants advanced several theories of liability in her suit against the tenants' landlords: negligence per se under Idaho's vicious dog statute, breach of duty to protect the guest from an animal known to have vicious tendencies, common law negligence, voluntary assumption of duty, and premises liability. None of these claims were successful, primarily because the plaintiff failed to make the requisite factual showings that the landlords either "knew" about or "harbored" a vicious animal on the premises.
For example, the Bright court found that the landlords could not be charged with "harboring" the tenants' dog on the property, as required under the vicious dog statute, regardless of whether the dog was actually "vicious." 162 Idaho 311, 396 P.3d at 1197. The Bright court reasoned that, since the term "harbor," as it is used in the vicious dog statute, "contemplates protecting an animal, or undertaking to control its actions," the landlords could not be charged with negligence per se under the statute because there was no evidence in the record that the landlords "received clandestinely and concealed the [tenants'] dog" or "had an animal in [their] keeping." Id. (citations therein omitted).
As to the landlords' alleged breach of duty to protect the tenants' guest from the tenants' dog, the Bright court ruled that, even though the landlords knew that the tenants owned a "Belgian Shepherd" dog, they could not be charged with actual or constructive knowledge that the tenants owned a vicious dog:
[I]t is undisputed that the Mazniks had neither actual nor constructive notice of the dog's dangerous or vicious propensity. Bright argues the Mazniks had notice of the dog's dangerous or vicious propensity because they "failed ... to investigate to Belgian Shepherd breed to find that is a regularly used guard dog. A simple internet search would have revealed the aggressive nature of this breed." This argument is overbroad and implicates nothing specific about this particular dog. This argument overlooks that, in Idaho, "all dogs, regardless of breed or size, are presumed to be harmless domestic animals." Braese[ v. Stinker Stores, Inc.], 157 Idaho [443,] 445, 337 P.3d [602,] 604 [(2014)] (quoting 4 Am. Jur. 2d Animals § 75 (2007)).
Bright, 162 Idaho 311, 396 P.3d at 1198.
The reader is urged to consult Quinlan, Dog Bite Liability—Visitor Who Is Bitten by Tenants’ Dog Sues Both Tenants and Landlords, 38 Landlord Tenant Law Bulletin No. 8, NL 2 (Aug. 2017), for a more detailed discussion of the Bright v. Maznik case.