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Law Review: Keep your dog ‘under control’ or face liability

Jim Porter
Law Review

Our Tahoe-Truckee Community is a dog’s heaven. We are dog friendly. However, ownership of a dog comes with responsibilities.

In the old days, if your dog bit someone there was the so-called “one free bite” rule, which has long since been abolished.

DOG CAUSES INJURY ON TRAIL

Diane Wolf was hiking with her dog Maury on Wildcat Gorge Trail, part of the East Bay Regional Park District. Dogs are allowed off-leash in the park, but only if they are under their owner’s control which is required by Ordinance.

Alexander Weber was walking on this same trail with his dog Luigi, a “larger” Armenian Mastiff-Boxer mix. Both Luigi and Maury were off-leash. You know what is coming.

Weber and Luigi were ahead of Wolf and Maury; however unbeknownst to Weber, Luigi wandered back towards Wolf. Weber yelled at Luigi, but he did not respond. The dogs somehow “tumbled over each other,” and collided with Wolf causing serious injuries. Wolf sued Weber for negligently allowing Luigi to be away from his control causing her injuries.

‘IF HIKING, DO YOU ASSUME RISK?’

Weber defended the lawsuit claiming that Wolf assumed the risk of injuries inherent in hiking on trails. The trial court ruled for Weber and Luigi, Wolf and Maury appealed.

As you well know, under the assumption of risk doctrine, a person does not owe a duty to protect others from risks inherent in certain recreational activities. We have written about cases upholding the assumption of risk defense involving ski injuries, bumper cars, falling into the burning effigy at the Burning Man Festival, a flag football injury, falling while being chased at a haunted house attraction and lots more.

Wolf v. Weber is whether walking on an off-leash trail is a recreational activity that carries with it the inherent risk of contact with another dog running at large, meaning you assume that risk and will not be able to successfully sue for injuries you sustain if you are knocked down by a dog.

ORDINANCE: MUST BE ‘UNDER CONTROL’

The East Bay Regional Park District has an ordinance, like most municipalities, that requires owners to keep their dogs “under control … when called” the dog must return to the owner when called.

Luigi, like most dogs I know, failed to heed commands to return, thus was not “under control at all times.”

COURT RULING AGAINST DOG OWNER

The First Appellate District Court out of Contra Costa County ruled against Luigi and Weber, favoring Wolf, concluding that given the Park Ordinance that dogs must be under the control of their owners, Wolf did not assume the risk of injuries of a collision with another dog. Diane Wolf prevails.

Given that the Town of Truckee and Placer and Nevada counties have “under control” Ordinances, dog owners should keep their dogs on a leash or under control or face the risk of being sued for injuries caused by their dog.

Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at porter@portersimon.com or http://www.portersimon.com.


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