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Landlords No Longer Bitten by Dog Bite Law

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By: David L. Haney

The Kentucky legislature recently passed House Bill 112, which was signed into law by Governor Bevin.  The bill, which clarifies the ownership of dogs, was introduced by Representative Stan Lee of Lexington.

Previously under Kentucky law, landlords and property owners were held responsible for a tenant’s dog if the dog attacked someone.  The recent change in law places the liability on the dog’s actual owners, which many believe will help stabilize high liability insurance costs for landlords. 

In Kentucky, a landlord had not generally been held liable for the negligence of a tenant in the use of a leased premises. See Farmer v. Modern Motors, Co., 31 S.W.2d 716 (Ky. 1930).  However, in 2012, the Kentucky Supreme Court in Benningfield v. Zinsmeister, carved out an exception to this rule.  367 S.W.3d 561 (Ky. 2012).

Justice Mary Noble wrote in the majority opinion, “[T]he plain meaning of the [dog bite] statute is workable. It has no ambiguity and plainly states that a person who permits a dog to remain on premises he owns shall be deemed an owner for purposes of the dog-bite liability statute. This can include a landlord. This reading furthers the policy of the statute to expand liability so that dog-bite victims can be compensated, which in turn gives incentives to potential owners of dogs to alter their behavior.”

Nationally, courts have generally only held a landlord liable if the landlord knew the dog was dangerous and could have had the dog removed or had some sort of control over the dog.

Under the most recent amendment to KRS 258.095, an “owner” of a dog is “every person having a right of property in the dog,” and every person who “(1) keeps or harbors the dog; (2) has the dog in his care; (3) permits the dog to remain on about premises owned and occupied by him; or (4) permits the dog to remain on or about premises leased and occupied by him.”

David L. Haney is a member Gwin, Steinmetz, and Baird’s long term care and business litigation groups. 

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