Kentucky Supreme Court Rules Dog Owner is Strictly Liable

The Kentucky Supreme Court has issued a decision imposing strict liability upon the owner of a dog that attacks and injures another person. See Maupin v. Tankersley, 2016-SC-00572-DG. As a result, comparative fault and premise liability defenses are irrelevant when determining the liability of a dog owner.

In Maupin, the plaintiff sought damages for her injuries that resulted from an attack by the defendant’s dogs while the plaintiff crossed the defendant’s property. In its jury instruction, the trial court incorporated comparative fault of the plaintiff in determining liability for the incident. The jury returned a defense verdict, finding the defendant was not liable for the injuries caused by his dogs.

Upon appeal, the Kentucky Supreme Court reversed the decision of the trial court. In reversing the trial court, the Kentucky Supreme Court relied on KRS 258.235(4):

(4)   Any owner whose dog is found to have caused damage to a person, livestock, or other property shall be responsible for that damage.

Based on KRS 258.235(4), the Kentucky Supreme Court imposed strict liability on the owner of a dog that attacks and injures a person. Now, in order to prove liability a plaintiff needs only to demonstrate that the defendant owned the dog, and that plaintiff’s injuries were caused by the dog.

The Maupin decision imposes strict liability on the owner of a dog that attacks and injures another person, regardless of the circumstances. While a jury may evaluate the facts and circumstances leading to the injuries and reduce the plaintiff’s damages, mere ownership of the dog will impose liability.

With regard to property owner’s rights, the Maupin decision results in strict liability of a property owner if the owner’s dog attacks a person on the owner’s land, regardless of whether the person is trespassing. This eliminates the need of the plaintiff to establish a duty of care of the dog owner.

Questions as to a plaintiff’s own actions in causing the dog bite incident remain a factor, but only as to awarding damages. In determining damages, juries can continue to consider any action by a plaintiff such as trespassing, antagonizing the dog, or other contributory torts when apportioning fault under KRS 411.182.

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