Plaintiffs bitten by vicious dogs often sustain serious injuries. Therefore, it is no surprise that they can also look forward to a significant payday. But that does not mean that courts won’t put a leash on plaintiffs’ ability to obtain judgments against those with a remote connection to the dog in question.
In Mercado v. Ovalle, the plaintiff was attacked by two pit bulls that were kept on a lot next to a grocery store. According to the plaintiff, the defendants, the grocery store and its owner, helped care for the pit bulls, occasionally gave them food, once took them for a walk, and had access to the lot where they were kept.
The defendants moved for summary judgment, which the Bronx County Supreme Court granted. The First Department affirmed the decision, holding that a defendant could not be held liable for the plaintiff’s injuries in the absence of any evidence that the defendant owned or harbored the dogs, or controlled the lot where they were kept.
However, the court also noted that there was no evidence that the pit bulls were ever in the store or that the defendants entered the adjacent lot, suggesting that the outcome may have been different had the defendants had more significant contacts with the pit bulls. The lesson from Mercado may be that it is fine to enjoy animals, just don’t assume any responsibility for them.