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Saturday, May 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Dangerous Goose May Cost Property Owner

(CN) - A domestic goose chase that ended with a woman breaking her arm could lead to liability for the goose's owner, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled.

As recounted in the ruling, the plaintiff, Janet Olier, was visiting Donna Bailey, whom she had met through a gardening website. Bailey had a sign in her yard that read, "Beware - Attack Geese."

During the visit, Olier wanted to see Bailey's blooming banana plant, but a goose squawked at her. Bailey said that the geese would not attack Olier if Bailey walked with her. Bailey also offered Olier a bamboo pole to fend off the geese.

When the ladies walked in to the yard, the geese squawked and hissed at her. Olier dropped the pole, considering it useless, the ruling says.

One goose reached out and bit Olier in the groin. Olier ran away, tripped over a bucket and broke her arm.

Olier sued Bailey in the Jackson County circuit court for premises liability and claims under the dangerous-propensity rule.

Bailey argued that the particular young goose had not bitten anyone in the past, although an adult goose from the same gaggle had chased a police officer off the property.

The trial court ruled in Bailey's favor, stating that she did not breach a duty of care to Olier, and that the evidence did not show the goose was dangerous.

The circuit court affirmed the decision, so Olier took the case to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

In a split decision written by Justice James W. Kitchens, the court ruled that Bailey must prevail on the premises-liability claim.

"The geese were not a hidden danger," Kitchens wrote. "Bailey had a sign warning visitors of their presence, and Olier saw them in the yard before she stepped onto it."

However, Kitchens added that Olier could proceed to trial on her claims regarding the dangerous propensities of the geese.

"Bailey did not breach her duty of care toward Oliver as a landowner, but as an animal owner," Kitchens wrote. "The geese were not a condition of the land to which such a duty attached."

Kitchens also stated that the attack was foreseeable, regardless of which goose did the damage to Olier.

"Here, Olier was scared of all of the geese," he wrote, "Bailey instructed Olier how to defend herself from all of the geese, and Bailey attempted to distract all of the geese."

Presiding Justice Jess H. Dickinson wrote a dissenting opinion.

"Simply stated, I believe uninvited licensees or trespassers who go onto another's property should not be allowed to make an ordinary negligence claim and recover for attacks by a homeowner's animal - whether a dog, cat or goose," he wrote.

Justice Josiah D. Coleman also dissented, stating that Olier did not demonstrate the dangerous propensity of the goose that attacked her, nor did she show that the goose's behavior was unnatural.

"Finally, I would hold that because the plaintiff's knowledge of the relevant behavior of the defendants' geese equaled that of the defendant, the defendant cannot be liable," he wrote.

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