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Dog days here again

As part of our annual public-service update on dog law, we offer a tale with a tip for dog owners.

When it comes to picking a name for your pooch, think ahead.

If you ever have to defend a dog-bite case, a jury might notice that you named your 110-pound German Shepherd after a famous literary monster.

The beast in question, “Grendel,” bit a woman who came to a Lake Anna vacation rental home as one family departed, to prepare the cottage for the next set of guests.

Mary Hoelman came to pick up dirty linens and deliver a pillow. The departing guests, a New Jersey family, had their two German Shepherds in the house. A son-in-law, who was packing a vehicle in the driveway, told Hoelman she could go in the house and do what she needed to do.

Hoelman said she followed the son-in-law into the house, and immediately saw the two dogs, one of which was growling and lunging toward her. The dog, Grendel, immediately attacked Hoelman and bit her in the right forearm.

According to Hoelman, defendant Carol Lipman told Hoelman she was the second person Grendel had bitten. Hoelman sued in Charlottesville U.S. District Court, and on July 19, U.S. District Judge Glen E. Conrad said a jury should hear the case.

Under Virginia premises liability law, Hoelman was an invitee of the rental-guest occupiers of the property. It is up to a jury to decide whether the Lipmans exercised appropriate care by keeping the dogs in the open kitchen of the rental home, the judge said.

“A jury could determine that, given Grendel’s past, the dog needed to be secured in a separate room, as was the Lipmans’ customary practice in their home in New Jersey when expecting visitors,” Conrad said.

The jury also could decide whether Carol and Leonard Lipman could shift the blame to their son-in-law, who they said was negligent in allowing Hoelman to enter the home without first notifying the Lipmans. There was a factual dispute about just what he knew about the dog’s history, the judge said.

The Lipmans’ lawyers may be hoping none of the jurors have seen a movie version of Grendel battling Beowulf.

A mediation conference is set for Aug. 13 in the case, Hoelman v. Lipman.
–Deborah Elkins

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