Spirlong v. Browne (CA1 10/28/14)

“Under state statutes, a person ‘keeping’ a dog for more than six consecutive days is considered the dog’s owner and is strictly liable for any injuries and damages caused by the dog. The issue in this appeal is whether ‘keeping’ requires the person to have exercised care, custody, or control of the dog. We hold it does.”

That’s all you really need to know about this one but here’s the rest:

Brown rented rooms in his house to Mayes, who had a dog and was solely responsible for its care. One day when Browne was gone Mayes let the dog out of its crate (lesson: don’t rent rooms to a guy whose dog has to be kept in a crate); Browne’s girlfriend put it in the back yard; it escaped and bit the plaintiffs’ son. They sued Browne, the renter, and the girlfriend; they took default judgment against the renter and girlfriend but Brown had insurance. On cross-motions for summary judgment the trial court held in essence that maintaining the house containing the dog constituted “keeping” it. The case went to trial against Browne; he won. Both sides appealed, thus raising the issue.

The court looks at dictionaries, which tell it that “keep” in the context of an animal “requires a person to exercise care, custody, or control.” This conclusion is also suggested to it by the wording of some licensing statutes. And since dog-bite liability is strict, requiring at least “care, custody, or control” is appropriate and equitable. This does not, however, change the old rule that the head of a household is liable for his kids’ dogs.

So the court affirms without needing to rule on the other issues before it.

(link to opinion)