Curb That Frisky Pup!

A woman who was inspecting a house, which was listed for sale in Philadelphia, was attacked and badly injured by the next door neighbor’s 118-pound Rottweiler dog; as a result she instituted litigation (Schickram v. Boss Pet Products) against the dog’s owner, the manufacturer, and distributor of the tether cord which the dog apparently broke when the plaintiff approached the home.

There was apparently little factual dispute; the injured woman was badly bitten on both arms, and while she recovered well without great disfigurement, she experienced and continues to suffer significant pain.  The dog was put down shortly after the incident.

Her action against the owner of the dog was settled for $300,000.  And though the cord, which was manufactured in Shanghai, China, was supposed to have been tested to hold dogs weighing up to 250 pounds (nearly twice the weight of the Rottweiler), the manufacturer paid an additional $1,600,000, for a total recovery of $1,900,000.

The plaintiff argued that the tether, which was made of galvanized steel which had been exposed to the elements and had corroded, should have been made of stainless steel.  The manufacturer countered that the cord contained a warning that it should not be used with “mean or vicious dogs.”  (Think about that.  How many buyers of the cords would describe their own dogs as “mean” or “vicious”?)

Until recently there was the “one-free-bite” rule which insulated dog owners from liability on the theory that until a dog bit someone, the owner had no way of knowing that it was a dangerous animal.  Be advised that the rule has gone out of existence, and owners no longer have the defense that the dog had not previously bitten anyone.  It is sufficient now to be liable if the owner knew or should have known that the dog had vicious tendencies.

— Ken Butera


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