Deborah Elkins//August 1, 2013
Deborah Elkins//August 1, 2013//
A plaintiff who arrived at a Lake Anna rental home to begin cleaning as defendants packed to leave can try her personal injury claim against defendants, owners of “Grendel,” a 110-pound German Shepherd, who bit plaintiff after defendants’ son-in-law told her she was free to enter the home; the Charlottesville U.S. District Court denies defendants’ motion for summary judgment.
Plaintiff testified she was unable to see the dogs prior to entering because her vision was obstructed by the son-in-law. Upon entering, she was immediately attacked by one of two German Shepherd dogs, who lunged at the and bit her in the right forearm. After the incident, defendants joined plaintiff on the front porch and the wife told her she was the second person Grendel had bitten. Plaintiff alleges that, because of the bite, she sustained serious injuries and has incurred ongoing medical expenses.
The injury occurred after plaintiff was invited by the son-in-law into defendants’ rental residence. The court believes plaintiff is properly classified as an invitee for standard of care purposes. Generally speaking, under Virginia law, issues of reasonable care and negligence are fact questions best resolved by the jury.
Defendants argue that only the owner of the residence owed plaintiff a duty. The court disagrees. Defendants’ position ignores the fact that their son-in-law – as an occupier of the residence – affirmatively invited plaintiff into the house when she arrived at the residence. This alone established plaintiff as an invitee. Defendants have not offered any case law in support of their theory – an argument the court interprets as akin to a privity of contract requirement – and the court is convinced that no such constraint exists in the premises liability context.
Defendants also contend that keeping the dogs inside the home – as opposed to roaming the yard – constitutes the exercise of ordinary care. The court does not agree that defendants have established as a matter of law that they exercised ordinary care. Finally, defendants argue their son-in-law was aware of Grendel’s violent propensities and he was negligent in allowing plaintiff to enter the residence without first notifying defendants. Defendants contend this negligent act constituted either the actual proximate cause of the injury, or a superseding cause that independently caused the injury. Defendants overlook the proposition that there can be more than one proximate cause of an event, and they have failed to present sufficient evidence establishing the son-in-law’s actions as a superseding cause of plaintiff’s injuries. Also, there is a factual dispute as to what the son-in-law knew about the dog’s behavior.
Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is denied.
Hoelman v. Lipman (Conrad) No. 3:12cv42, July 19, 2013; USDC at Charlottesville, Va. VLW 013-3-372, 8 pp.