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Dog Bites And The Law: Homeowner Association Liability

By Author: David Drexler
Total Articles: 49

Homeowner Associations Can Be Liable for Dog Bites in Common Areas

Condominium associations are empowered to limit pets in common areas, say dog bite lawyers - and should, to avoid lawsuits.

Given that more than 527 dog bite claims were filed with insurance companies in California in 2011, it should come as no surprise that personal injury lawyers who specialize in dog bites are busy seeking compensation for victims, who can amass huge medical bills and have lost time from work due to their injuries (also, at least 16 people die each year from dog attacks in the U.S.). Nationwide, more than $479 million was paid out on claims that year, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

California dog bite statutes provide that dog owners are responsible for injuries caused by their dogs, even on a first incident. In shared homeowner associations (HOAs) - condominium, town home and stock cooperative associations included - that responsibility extends to them as well. If a dog attacks a resident, visitor, postal carrier or other worker on premises in common areas such as hallways and outdoors, the association might face a victim’s trial lawyer in very costly litigation.

Nevertheless, there are ways a homeowner association can protect itself - before it needs to hire a defense dog bite injury attorney:

Consider pets in the same category of other hazards. HOAs maintain common areas, where a dog attack can take place. Therefore, the association needs to ensure a safe area just as it would make sure that floors are not slippery and that elevators are not faulty. Some associations also restrict cats in common areas.

Leashes should be required on pets at no more than 6 feet in length. Any longer will likely be a hazard in common-area walkways.

Dog size can also be regulated. Because larger dogs, even when leashed, can knock down smaller and more-feeble individuals, a weight limit can be established (often, under 40 pounds). Children and the elderly are most susceptible to dog-related injuries.

Enforcement of the rules needs to be consistent. If enforcement is lax, the association will be judged to have permitted a dangerous situation.

Handle requests for waivers with care. The Fair Housing Act allows that trained service animals, such as a “seeing eye dog,” must be allowed or else the association risks a discrimination lawsuit. The federal rules are stringent, that a dog trained for that specific health or mobility challenge help the unit owner’s disability. However, since a ruling by a California court in 2004 (Auburn Woods I HOA v. Fair Employment and Housing), an individual can claim any dog that alleviates mental disabilities should be permitted.

Clearly, an experienced personal injury attorney may be required when there is an attack. When a condominium associate board needs to establish these rules, they would be wise to learn about the potential consequences of not doing so.

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