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Massachusetts Appeals Court Finds Landowner Not Responsible for Tenant’s Dog

2021-02-02 15:26:06
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Victor Creatini says he was taking a bike ride with his dog on a leash next to him when a pit bull ran into the street and attacked his dog, causing him to fall off his bike and injure himself.

Although Creatini argued that the property owner violated a legal duty to protect him from the pit bull, a Massachusetts court of appeal says this is not the case, as the dog was kept on the property by the tenant of the pit bull. landowner.

Mark McHugh owned a multi-family home where he lived on the second floor and had known for over a year that Sean Mills, his tenant on the first floor, had a dog in his apartment, according to the appeals court decision. McHugh says he previously asked Mills to get rid of the dog, describing it as a mixed breed, and speculating that pit bull could have been one of the breeds.

At the time of the accident, Creatini and McHugh had never met. Although Creatini was injured when he fell off his bike, he was not attacked or bitten by the pit bull. Still, he claimed his injuries were a foreseeable consequence because McHugh had not properly stocked the pit bull on his property.

A Superior Court judge initially disagreed and allowed a summary judgment for McHugh, and Creatini appealed.

The Massachusetts court of appeal explained in its decision that in order for a negligence claim to be successful, Creatini would have to prove that McHugh owed him a duty of care and had violated that duty, resulting in damages.

According to the appeals court ruling, Massachusetts landowners are generally not required to take steps to protect against dangerous or unlawful acts by third parties. However, there is an exception when there is a special relationship between a land owner and a claimant.

For example, a landlord can be expected to take steps to protect a tenant from damage by another tenant's pit bull on the property, the appeal court said.

"However, no appeals court in Massachusetts has extended such an obligation to passersby injured by a tenant's dog after the dog has left the landlord's property," the appeals court decision said. "We refuse to do this here."

In this case, the appeals court ruled that McHugh and Creatini did not have a special relationship, as they had never met, and that Creatini & # 39; s injury occurred on a public street rather than McHugh's property.

Because nothing in the summary judgment indicated that McHugh knew Mills's dog was aggressive or prone to attack passersby, the appeals court ruled that the attack and resulting injuries were unforeseeable in these circumstances.

However, Creatini argued that there should be a rule that declares pit bulls dangerous and that all owners of land where pit bulls are kept impose a duty of reasonable care.

"While we recognize that some pit bulls can be aggressive … we see no reason to treat them as" dangerous tools "such as" firearms, explosives, poisonous drugs or high voltage electricity ", which Require the landowner's utmost attention and the most careful precautions, "the appeals court ruling stated, adding that" legislative measures in Massachusetts reflect strong public policy to prevent harm from uncontrolled dogs. "

However, these statutes place responsibility for dogs, including pit bulls, on the owners of those dogs rather than outside landowners.

With this in mind, the appellate court ruled that while the risk of damage to passers-by from a tenant's dog could in some circumstances be a foreseeable occurrence for a landlord, in this situation it was not. The appeals court agreed with the Superior Court's decision, ruling in McHugh's favor.

The case is Victor Creatini v Mark McHugh.

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