Shelly’s daughter was considering buying a house. The house was occupied by tenants who kept a Rottweiler-Labrador mixed dog.  Shelly accompanied her daughter on an inspection of the house.

The tenants had informed the real estate broker that their dog would be closed up in the laundry, which no one should enter. The inspector and potential buyer wanted to see the entire house, so Shelly—believing she was good with dogs—entered the laundry room.

The dog was friendly at first, but later Shelly notice the dog outside the laundry room. The dog was sick, and apparently trying with difficulty to return to the laundry room. Shelly tried to assist the dog to return to the laundry room. The dog bit and injured Shelly. Shelly later sued the tenants.

The trial court dismissed Shelly’s claims. Shelly appealed.[1] Our firm did not represent anyone in this matter.

The Court of Appeals held that the dog owners were not liable. The Court held that Shelly did not have permission to be in the property. The permission was extended only to the potential buyer and the inspector. Also, the tenants had informed everyone that the dog would be closed up in the laundry, and therefore no one was to enter that room.

Under some circumstances dog owners are strictly liable if their dog bites someone. Proving strictly liability requires the injured person to establish that the dog owner knew or should have known of the particular dog’s vicious or dangerous propensity. Shelly implied that the dog’s breed—a Rottweiler-Labrador mix—shows a dangerous propensity. The Court noted that no evidence was offered that this particular breed is prone to attacking, nor any was any authority cited to show that a dog’s breed is a legally relevant consideration.

While we did not represent anyone in this case, it is an interesting dog bite opinion. The case illustrates that a dog owner is not automatically liable for injuries inflicted by the dog—contrary to a widely held misconception. Dog bite cases are a lot trickier than simply proving that a dog bit someone and caused injury.

If you have suffered a dog bite injury it is wise to consult with an attorney early.

[1] Carr v. Riveros, unpublished opinion (No. 73927-1-I  Nov. 28, 2016).