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Was Employer Liable For Actions Of Employee's Dog?


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11/17/2008
Brent Adams
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A recent case in a court of appeals in Florida considered the following scenario: If an employee is allowed by an employer to take a dog to work, and someone walking near the workplace sustains personal injuries by being bitten by the dog, is the employer liable? 

In the case, an employee was walking Ben, the 80-pound dog of her employer, when it lunged at another dog nearly 10 feet away. The employee’s legs were tangled in the leash, cause her to fall and sustain injuries. 

The two dogs were familiar with one-another and had played in the past. They were behaving in a playful manner when the fall was caused.

King, the other dog, was unattended on the street. An employee of Gulfstream Metal Plating of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida was the owner of King. The dog had no connection to Gulfstream outside of the owner regularly bringing it to work and leaving it unattended in the yard. Gulfstream’s property was enclosed by a fence, which had a gate that remained open during business hours. 

The injured woman filed suit against Gulfstream for negligence for leaving the gate open and allowing the dog to freely roam off the property. A lower court found in Gulfstream’s favor and she filed an appeal.

Courts have typically maintained that when a personal injury takes place off of a company’s property, the owner or “one who harbors” a dog is the only person who may be held liable for the attack. A person who harbors a dog is one who cares for it in a manner similar to an owner. 

The only evidence in this case that Gulfstream “harbored” the dog was that the employer was aware of the employee bringing the dog and had no objections. Additionally, the court noted that there was no evidence of King acting in an aggressive or vicious manner. It also said that the accident likely would have occurred even if the dog had been restrained.

The appellate court affirmed the decision of the lower court.



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