July 28, 2011

Court Rules that Washington Apartment Complex Is Not Liable for Dog Attack

The Washington Court of Appeals held last month in an unpublished opinion that a woman injured at an apartment complex by a tenant’s dog could not recover from the owner or manager of the apartment complex. The Court based its decision on the well-settled rule in Washington that only the owner, keeper, or harborer of an animal is liable for injuries that it inflicts on others. Liability flows exclusively from ownership or direct control of an animal.

The injured woman argued that the owner and manager of the apartment complex should be held liable because they breached their affirmative duty to maintain the common area in which the incident occurred in a reasonably safe condition. The Court rejected that argument in a telling footnote, pointing out that it ruled in that manner in a similar case fifteen years ago and was overruled in unequivocal fashion by the Washington Supreme Court.

Washington condominium and homeowners associations are sometimes sued in connection with injuries that occur in common areas. Sometimes the owner will have a case, but in other instances (such as those involving dog-inflicted injuries) the owner will have no legal right to recover damages from the association. An attorney who is experienced in community association law can help your board know which lawsuits are all bark and no bite.