Liability for child bitten by dog on business owner's property?

by Lisa
(Mobile, AL)

An 8 year old child was playing unsupervised next door at a business next to my family's business. We have a dog chained up in the back of the building, with a black and white "Beware of Dog" sign clearly visible on side entrance of the building.

No one witnessed the dog bite the little girl. She was seen running back next door to the other business where she was staying. The dog was still sitting chained in the back of our business. The child had to go to the hospital and police came out and investigated.

The police report states there is a "Beware of Dog" sign visible on the side entrance. Now we just got a letter from the attorney of the child's parents wanting compensation for medical care. Should we be liable for this? Does the Beware of Dog sign stop liability? Any perspective you can give would help. Thanks.

Visitor Question:
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ANSWER for "Liability for child bitten by dog on business owner's property?":

Lisa (Mobile, AL):

The legal doctrine of "premises liability" refers to the responsibility property owners, including business property owners, have to those persons legally upon their property. Under the doctrine of premises liability, property owners have a legal duty to do everything within reason to ensure those persons legally upon their property are safe from undue harm and injury.

It's certainly reasonable for a business owner to have a dog on premises, whether for safety or for personal reasons. Moreover, having the dog chained up in the rear of the building can also be considered reasonable, especially as there is little chance the dog would interact with customers.

The next issue is whether or not you knew, or should have known a child would be wandering onto your property in the back of the building, and if so, did you fulfill your legal obligations as a property owner?

If you knew, or should have known the child might be wandering into your property and took no reasonable action to ensure the child would not be bitten, then you may have breached your legal duty to the child.

The next issue is whether or not the parents of the child share some responsibility for the child's injuries. If the parents knew, or should have known there was a dog next store, and with that knowledge permitted their child to wander into the alley, or failed to appropriately supervise their child, then the parents share some responsibility.

The State of Alabama is a Pure Contributory Negligence State. This means if a "victim" is even 1% responsible, or "negligent" for his or her own injuries, then the victim is barred from recovering any compensation from the at-fault party.

In your case, you have a viable legal defense under Alabama's pure contributory negligence doctrine. From the facts you present, it is very likely the parents of the child knew you kept a dog in the rear. As a result, it can be successfully argued the parent's failure to keep their child from wandering onto your property constitutes some negligence.

All it takes is 1%...and it appears their negligence may have been greater.

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Judge Calisi

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