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Dog bite victim recovers from landlord (after third bite) and landlord granted indemnification by tenant pursuant to dog agreement

Carol Wendzel was bit by Susan Feldstein's dog.  Both lived at the Whethersfield Apartments.  Whethersfield prohibited dogs in the apartment complex, or its common areas, but Feldstein "fostered" a nine-year-old German Shepard.  During the next seven months, the dog bit three people in the apartment common area. After the first bite, the apartment manager learned of the presence of the dog and required Feldstein to sign a "dog addendum" by which she agreed to indemnify the apartment complex for any resulting injury.

The dog bit a young man a couple of months later, and two months after that, it bit Wendzel.  She sued the owner but also joined the apartment complex, arguing that it had negligently failed to control the safety of the property.  At mediation, the apartment complex and Wendzel settled her claim for $80,000.00.    The apartment then sought indemnification from the owner (or more likely her renter's insurance).  The judge entered judgment for the apartment complex and Feldstein appealed.  She argued that the addendum was not a breach of Michigan law which prohibits apartment owners from exculpating themselves from tort liability.  The agreement didn't let the apartment complex off the hook:  it simply allowed the apartment complex's insurer to seek reimbursement of payments made to a victim.  The court also held that there was no public policy against holding a prospective dog owner ultimately responsible for the dog's behavior.  Lastly, the court rejected Feldstein's argument that the indemnity agreement did not apply to a settlement and required a judgment of liability after trial.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
309 East Front Street
Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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