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Volume XXVI, No. 7, March 13, 2014
From the Law Offices of Garan Lucow Miller, P.C.
From the Editor: Sarah Nadeau
Court of Appeals Finds Ordinance Cannot Be the Basis For Landlord Liability For a Dog Bite Where
the Ordinance Does Not Specifically Provide a Private Cause of Action
CONTRIBUTOR – WILLIAM J. BRICKLEY
This scenario is an often too familiar one. A pit pull bites an innocent victim with the victim suffering serious injuries. Unfortunately for the victim the owner is simply renting a flat or a house somewhere and has no insurance. Therefore, even though there is strict liability for the owner of the dog, and great damages to the victim of the dog bite, the victim rarely recovers damages from the owner. As a result, the plaintiff will often attempt to make a claim against the landlord or the person who owns the property. In the recent case of Cooper v Showler, (Unpublished, Court of Appeals No: 312526, 2/4/14), the Court of Appeals rejected this attempt.
In Cooper, Ms. Cooper was walking down the street when two dogs owned by a gentleman named Geoffrey Moore escaped and attacked her. The dogs were being kept at Mr. Moore’s girlfriend’s house and the Showlers, the defendants, were their landlord. The plaintiff’s theory against the landlord was that the City of Westland had an ordinance which defined owners and using this definition the landlords would be considered to be the owners of the dog. Therefore they should be responsible under the dog bite statute for the damages that were suffered.
The issue in the case was how far a local ordinance could go to create a legal duty. It has been held in Michigan law that when the legislature passes a statewide statute, the statute can be used to create a legal duty and obligation on a person. A common example of this is in the circumstance of the motor vehicle code which creates obligations on motorists and rules for proper driving of motor vehicles. Often, in an automobile negligence claim, the plaintiff asserts that there is a violation of a statutory duty and that is why the defendant was negligent.
In Cooper, however, Court of Appeals rejected plaintiff’s attempt to create a legal obligation through the use of an ordinance. While undisputed that the Westland ordinance provided certain definitions of owners and certain prohibitions against the harboring of pit bull dogs, there was nothing in the statute which in it of itself would create a private cause of action. The Court of Appeals indicated that unless an ordinance actually went so far as to create a private cause of action then an ordinance could not be used as a basis for trying to create a negligence claim against a landlord.
This case is important for many reasons. Over the last 10-15 years many local municipalities have created their own ordinances related to the harboring of dogs, especially dangerous dogs such as pit bulls. It is also significant where many times, the owners of these dogs are tenants and therefore have no insurance of their own. As a result, victims are left looking for a source of recovery and often times look to the landlord. According to the Cooper decision, however, a local ordinance simply can not be used as the basis to create a claim unless the ordinance specifically creates a right to sue the landlord.
Please note that this is not to say that there are never any circumstances where a landlord could be held responsible. Those circumstances, though, are very limited and the Cooper decision did nothing to expand on the circumstances under which a landlord may have responsibility.
GARAN LUCOW MILLER GRAND RAPIDS SPRING BREAKFAST SEMINAR
REGISTER NOW: firstname.lastname@example.org
GRAND RAPIDS SPRING BREAKFAST SEMINAR
You and your co-workers are invited to attend our complimentary Annual Spring Breakfast Seminar at the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park on April 23, 2014. After the seminar, please enjoy all of the indoor and outdoor garden areas as our guests, including the always wonderful Butterflies Are Blooming exhibit.
If you are able to attend, please R.S.V.P., along with the full names and number of attendees, to Lynn Beatty at email@example.com or call our office at 616-742-5500. We look forward to seeing you at the gardens.
8:00 – 8:20 a.m. Registration and Continental Breakfast
8:20 – 8:25 a.m. Welcome and Introduction
David N. Campos, Moderator
8:25- 8:50 a.m. A View From the Bench
Special Guest Speaker: Hon. James R. Redford, Kent County Circuit Court
8:50 – 9:50 a.m. Michigan First Party No-Fault (PIP) Updates
A comprehensive review of significant court decisions over the past year.
Speaker: David N. Campos
9:50 – 10:15 a.m. Property Protection Insurance (PPI) Updates
A presentation specifically focused on Property Protection Insurance claims and strategies for successful handling.
Speaker: Tara L. Velting
10:15 – 10:30 a.m. Break
10:30 – 10:50 a.m. Michigan Third-Party (Automobile Negligence) Updates
How courts are applying McCormick v Carrier, and the continued importance of using a wide variety of social networking sites for impeachment.
Speaker: David A. Couch
10:50 – 11:10 a.m. Updated Strategies for Handling Vehicle and Home Modifications Cases
A presentation specifically focused on Admire v Auto Owners, 494 Mich. 10 (2013) and its effect on modifications claims.
Speaker: Emily L. Partridge
11:10 – 11:50 a.m. Using Biomechanical Engineering to Strengthen Your Case
Guest Speaker: Brian T. Weaver, P.E., Weaver Engineering Co.
11:50 – 12:20 p.m. Michigan Premises Liability Updates
Speaker: Nathan A. Dodson
12:20 – 12:30 p.m. Question and Answer Session With the Panel Speakers
INDY CITY SEMINAR, Indianapolis, Indiana, Marriott Downtown.
May 21, 2014. Watch for further details in upcoming issues of LawFax