Under longstanding Alabama law, the “owner or keeper” of a vicious or dangerous dog is legally responsible for any injuries caused by the animal. In some cases, however, if a landlord or property manager has allowed a vicious or dangerous animal to be kept on a rental property, the landlord may be held responsible, if the animal attacks someone. Alabama law is very complex in this area, but we have extensive experience with dog attack cases at Siniard, Timberlake & League, and are very familiar with the intricacies and challenges of this area of the law.
If a vicious or dangerous dog is present on the premises of an apartment complex or other rental property, Alabama law treats the animal’s presence much like it would any other physical hazard. A landlord or property manager has a responsibility to handle a dangerous animal just as they would any other known danger on the property. In Gentle v. Pine Valley Apartments, an apartment complex allowed a tenant to keep a vicious dog tied to a stair railing in a common area outside his apartment, and the dog attacked a passing child. The Supreme Court of Alabama ruled that the duty of the landlord of an apartment complex extended to using “reasonable care” to protect tenants from dog attacks in common areas of the premises, just as with any other dangerous condition on the property. In effect, this treats the dangerous animal as an unreasonably dangerous condition or hazard under traditional premises liability law, and the landlord or property manager has a duty to either provide a warning or remove the danger, just as they would with a defective stair, a slick spot, or a hole.
In a case that was handled by Siniard, Timberlake & League, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals further refined this legal principle and applied it to a dog attack that occurred off the rented property. In Berg v. Nguyen, the renter kept several vicious dogs in the back yard of a rental home and allowed the dogs to escape the property, which led to a person being attacked in the parking lot of a nearby business. The Court of Civil Appeals agreed with Siniard, Timberlake & League on the principles of law, holding that a landlord could be held responsible for a dog attack that occurred when a vicious dog leaves the property to menace others when the landlord allows the animal to be kept on the property and either knows or should know that the animal is dangerous and poses a risk to persons off the premises. In such a case, the most important details are whether the landlord or property manager knew the animal was dangerous and allowed it to be kept on the property and whether the landlord knew or should have known that the animal presented a danger to persons off the rented property. Continue reading