Stephens v. Covington | Liability of Landlord for Dog Bite

In Stephens v. Covington, (February 18, 2014), the Court of Appeals addressed a case in which a patient at an eight-year old boy was seriously bitten by a Rottweiler. The child obtained a judgment against the dog owner for $500,000, but also sought a judgment against the person who owned the property where the incident occurred, who had rented the property to the dog owner.

The court stated the general rule that, pursuant to North Carolina authority (Holcomb v. Colonial Associates (2004)), that the landlord can be liable for his tenant’s dog’s attack if the landlord knew of the dangerous propensity of the dog, and had the ability to control the dog. The court held that on the evidence presented, the landlord was not aware of the dog’s dangerous propensities. The plaintiff argued that a prior case in North Carolina established that Rottweilers are dangerous as a matter of law. The court, however, rejected this argument, stating that whether a particular breed of dog is dangerous must be decided on a case-by-case basis, and the finding from the prior case is not binding in other cases; and in the case on appeal, the plaintiff did not present evidence that Rottweilers are inherently dangerous.

John Kirby has represented many parties in cases involving dog bites.

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