Landlord Unleashed From Dog Attack Suit

     (CN) – A Pennsylvania landlord had no way of knowing that his tenant’s dog had violent propensities before it mauled a 5-year-old girl, a federal judge ruled.
     Mara Derr’s dog Bandit allegedly severely injured 5-year-old Miranda Seeley in 2003 while the two families were renting a Northumberland, Pa., duplex owned by Carl Libby.
     Seely’s father, Edward, sued Derr and Libby on Miranda’s behalf in December 2011. The action was transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, and Miranda’s natural guardian, Susan Shepard, is now named as her representative plaintiff.
     Libby claimed he could not be held liable for the attack, however, because he allegedly knew only of prior altercations involving Derr’s other dog, Cinnamon.
     The first of these incidents involved Libby seeing Cinnamon escape from Derr’s back porch and run down an alleyway. He allegedly told Derr then to keep her dog tied to the house or kept inside.
     Libby said he again admonished Derr after he heard that Cinnamon chased a child on a bicycle and later got into an altercation with a neighbor’s dog.
     Although the Seeleys say Bandit was involved in these prior episodes, Libby, Derr, and a neighbor claimed that Libby heard only that Cinnamon was the aggressor.
     U.S. District Judge Martin Carlson granted Libby summary judgment Wednesday, holding that “the undisputed evidence shows that Libby had never received notice of any dangerous propensities on the part of Bandit, the dog involved in the July 9, 2003, mauling incident, prior to that incident.”
     Carlson added that “the undisputed evidence shows that Libby was only informed of incidents involving another canine, Cinnamon. In fact, Seeley candidly admitted that he had no information which would indicate that Libby had any prior actual knowledge of dangerous propensities on the part of Derr’s dog, Bandit.”
     Relying on the Pennsylvania Superior Court’s 2008 ruling in Underwood ex rel. Underwood v. Wind, the court tossed aside Miranda’s landlord liability claim.
     “Since Pennsylvania law would not permit liability based solely upon a claim that the landlord, Libby, should have known of Bandit’s dangerousness, and instead requires proof that ‘he or she knows of the presence of that pet and that pet’s violent propensities‘ (emphasis added),” Carlson wrote, “the complete paucity of evidence that Libby had received prior notice that the offending dog, Bandit, was dangerous is fatal to any claim against the landlord under Pennsylvania law, and compels entry of judgment in favor of defendant Libby.”
     The Seeleys must notify the court by Aug. 6 how they wish to proceed against Derr, who has been served but has not yet responded to the lawsuit, the ruling concludes.

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