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potential dog liability? how to lessen Animal Injury, Dog Bite

Discussion in 'Accidents, Injuries, Negligence' started by iowaboy77, Jul 12, 2009.

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  1. iowaboy77

    iowaboy77 Law Topic Starter New Member

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    My jurisdiction is: Iowa

    We purchased a rural 12 acre farm and built a house. We have two large dogs that are kept on the property by an underground electronic fence. The dogs WILL NOT cross this fence under any circumstance. This has been tested by chasing deer, people trying to coax them across, and they have not crossed the boundary in three years.

    A neighbor purchased the property to our west and has developed it into an outdoor wedding center. He erected a five strand wire fence between our properties, but left two openings between our properties. One is gated, the other is just a gap- no gate. We verbally requested that he leave no gaps or gates, but he did so anyway.

    Now, he has requested the use of our property as overflow parking, (by the gap gate) and I have denied this as I am leery that our dogs might cause personal or property damage.

    My question is, should we be taking steps to limit our liability in case a member of a wedding wanders over onto our property and is injured by our dog, a tractor, falling into a hole, etc. Are no tresspassing or beware of dog signs enough? I would not post either sign for the neighbor or his family, but with the use of his property by hundreds of complete strangers every year, I feel the need to do something.
     
  2. FlaRiptide

    FlaRiptide New Member

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    I am unaware of Iowa's laws regarding dogs. Yet, I govern myself not necessarily by the laws but the public perception. I own two large Russian Wolfhounds. They are very gentle as a pet, yet can be extremely ferocious and dangerous under specific conditions.

    Don't expect to use this as a defence in Court!

    No matter how well trained, an animal can never be 100% trusted. Thus for everyones protection, including the dog's, additional steps must be taken to keep the situation safe.

    You have unfortunately been placed into a situation where the invisible fence is no longer feasible. If you wish to continue to allow your dogs to run free on your property, I would strongly advise you install a "real" barrier such as a privacy fence.

    What if a child wandered onto your property, tripped and fell on top of one of your sleeping dogs? The dog's initial reaction will be agrression at whatever disturbed it. The child could potentially be critically injured.

    Who do you think will be responsible?

    Install a real fence...
     
  3. iowaboy77

    iowaboy77 Law Topic Starter New Member

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    As the individual was tresspassing, and had ignored no tresspassing signs, I would not expect to be held responsible.

    I would also expect that the parents would be held responsible for negligence for allowing their child to cross a barrier fence and onto a working farm.

    As stated, there is a five strand cattle fence between our properties that has the ability to also be electrified. This is a physical barrier. For now, I do not have cattle on that portion of the property, but in my mind, these represent an even larger threat than the dogs. The neighbor's brochure clearly states that their property borders a cattle farm. To erect a taller privacy fence along our nearly 2000 foot property line is cost prohibitive.

    To update: The gap gates have been filled and padlocked from my side of the fence. People from their parties continue to climb the fence to play in the creek and/or relieve themselves.

    I am not concerned with the dogs crossing the underground electronic fence. It will not happen. I am so sure of this that I am willing to accept liability associated with the dog's escape from my property. The question is, to what extent am I liable for damages sustained by a tresspasser.
     
  4. FlaRiptide

    FlaRiptide New Member

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    You first need to become familiar with the animal ordinance within your community. In the County where I live, dogs and cats even while roaming on the owner's property must be on leash and be under the direct control of the owner at all times.

    In general, the dog owner may be able to avoid liability if the injured person:

    (1) provoked the injury from the dog
    (2) knowingly took the risk of being injured by the dog
    (3) was trespassing
    (4) was breaking the law, or
    (5) was unreasonably careless, and that carelessness contributed to the injury.

    Yet, as in every criminal and civil court case, there are mitigating circumstances that the judge may use. And as you say,
    I can easily see a judge taking this as a poor attitude. The defense could bring an animal expert to testify that electronic fences are NOT 100% foolproof.

    There could be any number of incidents which could occur where your no tresspassing signs would be of little or no benefit to you. What if the child was lost and accidently wandered onto your property? No negligence there.

    By this statement you are also indirectly saying that you are willing to risk the potential of maiming and/or death to an individual. This is irresponsible as a dog owner.

    All I am saying is that you can save yourself a lot of grief by simply constraining your dogs. I know this goes against what you may feel as your right to have the dogs run free on your property, yet you accept great risk.

    As I am not an attorney, perhaps an attorney will followup on this post. If not, I strongly suggest you investigate your particular situation with a local attorney.

    You should send notification to the neighbor that this is occuring and that it is not safe for his "customers" to continue doing so. This letter will help you in the event of a future problem. It will show that you recognized a potential problem and tried to correct it. By ignoring a problem, you may become the negligent party.

    You ought to also immediately check with your current insurance company to see what liabilities they would cover. Depending on the breed of your two large dogs, you may very well not be covered at all for any harm they may cause.
     
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2009
  5. iowaboy77

    iowaboy77 Law Topic Starter New Member

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    There are no ordinances of this type in the unincorporated areas of my county. Incidentally, there are also no zoning ordinances, and very few other types of ordinances. During the construction of my house I did not need permits nor inspections. This is truly "backwoods" country.

    So the lost individual was trespassing. That would seemingly allow me to avoid liability using the above criteria. Also, they climbed a fence without the knowledge of what that fence was built to contain or protect from. Carelessness?

    The efficacy of the electronic fence is not the subject of this post. It will never come in to play. The animals will never cross this boundary. I would have no problem shooting either of my dogs if they cross the boundary, and I accept any liability associated with this. This will not happen.

    The negligence falls upon the parents who allowed their child to become lost. Also, the child was trespassing.

    These are interesting concepts. I do not see the correlation between my statement and yours, and certainly don't see irresponsibility on my part. My dogs are working animals. They kill varmints of all sorts on a daily basis. Last night they caught coyotes around the barn and held them at bay long enough for me to get out there with a shotgun. Also, I live near the end of a 20 mile dead end gravel road. There are three houses along the road, including mine. Ours is the only house with dogs. Ours is the only house that has not been burglarized in the past year.

    I think the social differences between Florida and Iowa are coming in to play here.


    I hope someone would chime in. Removing all else from the scenario, the question truly is, to what extent am I responsible for damages sustained by a trespasser? In addition to dogs, we could open it up to include cattle, farm equipment, and moving water. I plan on addressing this with my attorney at tax time when I am in his office. In the meantime, it is truly interesting to hear the perspective of others.

    Believe me, this has been done. We are still on good terms and can work together on this, but official notice has been given.

    Thats a good idea. The dogs are golden retriever mixes, certainly not on most dangerous breed lists, but again, large enough to maim or kill if they wanted to. Each is lean and over 100 pounds. Sometimes the ferocity of their barks makes me a little uneasy- but thankfully they usually only get that way as they're tearing a racoon apart.
     
  6. dee_dub

    dee_dub Moderator

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    Did you post this in another thread? I have a serious deja vu about this question. Anyways, it cuts across occupier's liability (or premises liability as it's called in Iowa), dog-bite law, and maybe plain ol' negligence. I know something about negligence and dog-bite law, but I understand Iowa's premises liability law is recently changed and I wouldn't presume to comment on it. You can read more here: http://www.calt.iastate.edu/jettison.html

    This certainly is a common question around here these days. :)
     
  7. FlaRiptide

    FlaRiptide New Member

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    I believe you are indeed correct!

    I envy your living atmosphere. The best my two Russian Wolfhounds can do in our backyard is catch a squirrel or maybe a stray opossum. Though they are pets, I have to admit it would be a thrill to see them tangle with a coyote!!

    I hope all works out for you...
     
  8. LegalGeek

    LegalGeek New Member

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    Yes, you should put signs. You should also talk to your neighbor to be responsible in informing their visitors about it. You can also leash your do because dogs no matter how trained they are can be vicious at times.
     
  9. iowaboy77

    iowaboy77 Law Topic Starter New Member

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    Update:

    I have been advised to put up Private Property No Trespassing signs. I have been warned against putting up ANY sign relating to the dog as it aknowledges I admit the dog might cause damage. Also, if I was putting up signs relating to the dog, it would be a slippery slope to signs about the tractors, cattle, flowing water, grain bin, hay rake, barns, woods, wild animals, etc. Private property, No trespassing is sufficient. Also leashing the dogs does not limit my liability for damages caused by them in the presence of the physical and electronic fences.
     
  10. capecod

    capecod New Member

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    Signs are needed.

    I would put the signs up right away, and continue to add to your physical fencing with signs hanging on it as well.
    Then send a letter to your neighbour. I would have your local authorities and your insurance company also 'add' to your letter.
    If people come onto your property and pee in your river, thats another thing that you could put in the letter, especially if they are hosting groups of people.

    We have a huge well/springhouse which is a 30X20 hole in the ground and rock which a human could fall into and not be able to get out of. So we built a sturdy wooden structure over it, with secure hardware cloth for screens. So its unlikely that anybody could get into it, though there was a case when some drunk vandals broke a hole in the roof and poured paint remover into it. So the insurance company advised us to put up no trespassing signs all over it. They said that this should cover the law. This is in rural Maine.
     

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