Appeals Court Reinstates Suit
San Francisco, CA - In a ruling that ought to send shockwaves to homeowners for the liability they face when allowing pit bulls on their property, the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco reinstated a suit that a Contra Costa County judge had dismissed. The appeals court said there was evidence that the homeowner knew the dog was dangerous and failed to protect the construction worker.
The victim, Stephen Salinas, was severely injured in the attack. Salinas' arms were mangled and he was unable to work for several months on daytime construction crews or in the evenings as a musician, said his lawyer, Steve Condie. As a homeowner, "you're supposed to be responsible for taking care of your property and keeping it safe, particularly if you've got workmen coming over," Condie said.
Salinas worked for a contractor hired by Martin for several months in 2005. At the same time, Martin hired two men to do gardening, and let them keep their pit bull and another dog in the back yard. Martin claimed that the dogs looked tame and friendly. But the construction contractor said he saw a ferocious-looking dog in the gardeners' van and told Martin he feared having a pit bull on the property.
In August 2005, Salinas went into the yard to retrieve some wooden planks, unaware that Martin, who was not at home, had allowed the gardeners to let the dogs run free in the yard that day, the court said. The pit bull attacked him, chased him through a gap in the fence and continued biting him until he jumped onto Martin's car and escaped, the court said.
Salinas sued the gardeners and Martin, but the dogs' owners quickly vanished. Superior Court Judge Judith Craddick dismissed the suit against Martin, saying there was no evidence that he had known the dog was dangerous. But the appeals court said Craddick's standard was too strict and that Salinas had to show only that the contractor's warning made Martin aware of the potential risk.
The homeowner "participated in creation of the dangerous condition of the property by authorizing or permitting the dogs to run loose," Justice Douglas Swager said in the 3-0 ruling. He said an owner in such circumstances must take steps to protect an invited guest or authorized worker, and noted that Martin could have ordered the gardeners to confine their dogs, or warned Salinas of the animals' presence.
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