News reached us this week of the tragic death of a 5-year-old boy in Riverside, Alabama, who died after a neighbor's pit bull attacked him. Apparently, the child was playing in his own yard when the attack occurred.
At Marsh, Rickard & Bryan, we see these attacks by dogs all too often. For example, attorney Ty of our firm is handling four serious dog bite cases right now and has handled more in the past. When these incidents reach the news, it often starts a public discussion about the various breeds of dogs who bite and attack; specifically, about pit bulls and whether they're inherently vicious. Interestingly, Ty says in the cases he's handling, he's seen pit bulls hurt people but he's also seen other breeds cause serious injuries to children and adults alike. One case he's got even involves a poodle. Must be something to the point of view that these attacks aren't just about the breed of a dog but how that dog has been trained and treated by its owner.
Talking about an owner's accountability, Ty says in Alabama, dog owners are strictly liable for damages if their dog bites someone, regardless of where it happens or whether that dog has bitten anyone before. In addition to the dog owner, other parties can also be responsible. In at least two cases Ty has handled, a tenant was injured when dogs were kept on rental property in violation of a lease. In cases like those, the property manager can be found to be responsible based on his failure to enforce the "no pet" provision of the lease.
Children seem to be particularly vulnerable to attacks by dogs. They are the ones who are outside playing in the yard where dogs are kept. Given their age, they may not understand that they cannot approach a dog without caution. They are certainly less able to defend themselves when approached by a dog. This would seem to make it all the more important to have leash laws and have them enforced by authorities. We were dismayed to read reports that the pit bull who attacked this child was not on a leash and that Riverside does not have a leash law. Some communities go even further and require that certain breeds, including pit bulls, wear muzzles in public. These laws are important to have, but Ty's experience teaches him that these terrible injuries and death can only be avoided when dog owners, property owners and property managers follow these rules, and adequately secure and control their pets.