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Pit bulls not 'dangerous instrumentalities' like guns, explosives and poison, court rules

The Massachusetts Appeals Court today dismissed a lawsuit by a man injured in a fall off his bicycle when another man's unsecured pit bull charged out of a yard and attacked the bike rider's dog, who had been trotting alongside him.

The bicycle rider sued both the dog's owner and the landlord. The court said the case against the owner "was settled," without providing additional details, but said it agreed with a Superior Court judge who dismissed the case against the landlord on the grounds the landlord was not to blame for the actions of his tenant's dog - even if the dog was a pit bull.

While we acknowledge that some pit bulls can be aggressive, see Nutt, 75 Mass. App. Ct. at 487, citing Commonwealth v. Santiago, 452 Mass. 573, 577-578 (2008) (pit bull is breed "commonly known to be aggressive"), we see no reason to treat them as "dangerous instrumentalities" like "firearms, explosives, poisonous drugs, or high tension electricity," which require the landowner's "closest attention and most careful precautions."

The court first noted that the state's dog-liability law only discusses dog owners, not their landlords, and so turned to common law - accepted legal practices not specifically codified in a statute - to consider whether that should be extended to the landlords of the dog owners.

To prevail on a negligence claim, Creatini [the bike rider] must prove that McHugh [the landlord] owed him a duty of reasonable care, that McHugh breached that duty, that damage resulted, and that there was a causal link between the breach of the duty and the damage.

The court noted that while there are some circumstances that allow for suits in cases involving third parties - for example, bar owners whose patrons get drunk and then crash a car. There has even been one case in which a tenant won a suit against a landlord when another tenant's pit bull injured the tenant's dog inside some shared space in their building.

But the case here involved a tenant's dog that ran off the landlord's property and onto a public street, the court continued.

Here, McHugh and Creatini had no special relationship. Indeed, they had never met. Creatini's injury did not occur on McHugh's property, but on a public street. Nothing in the summary judgment record indicates that McHugh was aware that Mills's dog was aggressive or prone to attack passers-by. In these circumstances, we agree with the judge's conclusion that "[a]n injury to a person running a leashed dog while riding a bicycle on a public street from a dog fight started by an unleashed dog is not a foreseeable event that warrants the imposition of a duty upon a landlord."

After rejecting the bicyclist's request to label pit bulls "dangerous instrumentalities," legally similar to guns and explosives, which would require "a duty of reasonable care on all owners of land where pit bulls are kept," the court switched from common law back to statutes, which it said "reflect a strong public policy" that any blame for the actions of dogs lies with their owners:

These statutes reflect a public policy that places responsibility for dogs, including pit bulls, on the owners and keepers of those dogs -- not on third-party landowners.

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Comments

there are no bad dog breeds, only bad dog owners.

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Voting closed 49

It isn't the breed of the dog, its the inbreeding and the people who own the dog.

There is nothing particularly special about pit bulls other than they have the misfortune of being attractive to assholes.

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Voting closed 49

That's not what the court determined.

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Voting closed 40

What the court determined is that pit bulls are not weaponized or weapons like ... um ... weapons.

The plaintiff was trying to claim that pit bull = weapon due to inherent properties of pit bull.

Do try to keep up.

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Voting closed 37

but there are other examples of things being controlled or outlawed because of the nitwit population. Fireworks are probably the most obvious one. I have met and petted pit bulls in the presence of their owners, but never really trust them. The ones owned by nitwits are serious trouble. The breed really serves no purpose except as an accessory for the secretly manhood-challenged.

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Voting closed 25

you know that dogs are incredibly intuitive creatures, and when you're nervous, they get nervous.

your apprehension around them probably adds to their apprehension around you.

i have a pitbull. he's 95 lbs, so he is giant for the breed. i have friends who are terrified of dogs, and friends who are not. the ones who are not get immediate positive responses from my dog. the one who are nervous receive wary looks from him.

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Voting closed 20

Do most dogs now have a purpose for what they were used for? Those Yorkies were used to de-rat areas, which the vast majority are not doing now. And that lab, too.

As for attacks, I had over 100 stitches in my face as a kid because the pet of my family, a Beagle mutt attacked me. Any dog could do it.

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Voting closed 23

Pitbull is not exactly a breed. It's a description of a number of breeds and characteristics but are mostly terrier. Terriers can have high prey and/or defense drive as can many other dog groups. In this example it sounds like this dog saw a loud commotion and it got excited. Dog got loose and a dog fight ensued. Sounds like an accident to me. They are dogs.

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Voting closed 27

Note "terriers are like" and "dog got loose".

If you know that your dog has high prey/defense/fight drive, you should be doing whatever you can to prevent "dog got loose".

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Voting closed 31

No dog owner regardless of the breed or temperament should let they dog run in the street or have the ability to get loose. We don't know which dog bit first and it doesn't really matter.

Also, why was this person riding their bike with their dog on leash. Clearly they were not in control of their bike. This is incredibly dangerous for both the dog, rider, and pedestrians. I don't think this rider was working on their bike-jouring skills which is an actual sport.

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Voting closed 11

Doesn't matter which dog bit first. One dog was on leash and one dog was not.

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Voting closed 16

It's a fact that no breed of dog including a Pit Bull Terrier or Staffordshire Terrier is born dangerous and fighting mad. It's the stupid humans who own them who neglect and beat them to make them that way. Such owners should be jailed not the dogs.

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Voting closed 20

But that have characteristics breed into them that enhance their abilities' to fight.

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Voting closed 19

Pit bull is not a breed. It is a category of dogs which share traits. Follows the reasoning that all pitties are terriers but not all terriers are pitties. Breeds in the category include American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, American Bulldog, Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

The temperament, the natural disposition varies from breed to breed and can not scientifically be applied as a single descriptive across the board. To do is comparable to claiming that people of a certain height or taller are of a separate race. Or that people of a certain skin color live in economically pained areas due to some trait associated with their skin color (which otherwise would be called racism I think). That of course enters upon a different discussion of what the word race means.

I fundamentally do agree that responsibility should generally fall upon the owner. In this law suit the owner who is riding a bike while running his dog also bears responsibility. We can not rule in but can not rule out the possibility that the pit type dog seeing a running dog perceived a kind of threat.

Nevertheless the owner of the pit type dog does have the responsibility of keeping the dog on a leash. On there other hand I know of city officials who let their dogs wander loose on the street, including very territorial German Shepherds. So I wish that laws regarding dogs were applied to everyone without favoritism.

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Voting closed 20

In this law suit the owner who is riding a bike while running his dog also bears responsibility.

Why? Because he was doing something that you wouldn't?

Sounds a lot like victim blaming to me. If your dog can't handle the sight of someone running with their dog on a public way then that isn't the fault of the person with the running dog.

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Voting closed 32

... it might matter whether the bike rider whose (presumably unleashed) dog was attacked was allowed to have an unleashed dog in this particular place.

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Voting closed 15

Sounds like the dog that was bitten was on a leash.

“we agree with the judge's conclusion that "[a]n injury to a person running a leashed dog while riding a bicycle on a public street from a dog fight started by an unleashed dog is not a foreseeable event that warrants the imposition of a duty upon a landlord."

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Voting closed 9

Doesn't matter if the pit type dog perceived a threat from the other dog. The pit type dog was not on leash and its owner was not in control.

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Voting closed 12

about a dog owner whose dog was attacked and badly injured by another improperly kept dog. As of this morning it had already attracted hundreds of comments, mostly from people who would seem to agree that aggressive, unrestrained dogs really are "dangerous instrumentalities." But it would seem that this ruling really hinges on the legal question of third-party liability, which does seem a stretch in this case, so I wonder why the lawsuit was brought in the first place.

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Voting closed 12

That the landlord isn't responsible for what his tenant's dog did on the public sidewalk.

And that was originally the story I started writing, even had a headline ready, something like "If you're attacked by a dog, sue the dog's owner, not the dog's owner's landlord, court rules."

But then I kept reading the decision and it turned out the bike rider's attorney tried convincing the court that pit bulls are actually as dangerous as guns, bombs, etc., and landlords can be held to be responsible for those in some cases - only the court didn't bite.

Given the discussion over pit bulls over the years, I thought that made for a more interesting angle.

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Voting closed 14

... comes up with nothing about when a landlord can be held responsible for a gun owning tenant.

As a landlord, I'd like to know when I can he held responsible for my tenant's gun.

But there is lots on info on putting a no guns clause in the lease. So I'm going to be researching whether or not such a clause is legal in Mass, and whether or not it's a good idea.

Same for a no bombs clause?

On the other hand, if I had come across a no guns and no bombs clause in a lease when I was renting, I would have been all "I don't know what's wrong with this building and this neighborhood but I am outta here."

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Voting closed 14

Sounds like he'd already gone after the owner for what he could get. Might be that the dog's owner didn't have any assets to his name, so to get any kind of recompense the victim tried the landlord, who presumably has more money.

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Voting closed 18

Magoo once had an inch worm. Magoo trained it to be one bad a$$ mofo of an inch worm. Inchy attacked Magoo one day and Magoo was forced to put Inchy down. The last thing Inchy saw was the bottom of Magoo’s Doc Martin’s. Magoo.

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Voting closed 26

This has been one of your better ones of late.

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Voting closed 13

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Voting closed 8

Please stop the idiocy.

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Voting closed 9

did you stop to read his comment? Just so you know, you don't have to read comments you don't want to read.

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Voting closed 7

As an owner of an AmStaff/Afghan Hound cross, I love him. He is a big 85 lb cuddle bug/heat blanket but I would not let him run free around the neighborhood.

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Voting closed 12

The most aggression my dog and I get is from retriever breeds, especially black labs. My favorites are the people with dogs off leash who say things like, yea, he does to some dogs, I don't know why.

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Voting closed 10

In my experience, everyone with an ill-behaved off-leash dog is always really quick to claim that they're "never like this" and they "don't know what's got into them". Even when its the third or fourth time the dog is doing the same thing while not being restrained.

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Voting closed 10