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Woman cannot sue owner after she is injured by loose pit bulls; city ordinance didn't apply to protect injury victims

Edna Cooper sued several defendants after she was injured by two loose pit bulls.  The dogs had escaped from the yard where they lived with the defendant tenants.  Cooper sued both the landlords and the tenants, arguing that both were "owners" under a Westland ordinance because the knowlingly allowed the dogs to remain on their premises and failed to obey the leash law.  (Most likely, only the landlords had insurance, also.)

Even though the Westland ordinance prohibited anyone from "keeping... certain breeds of dogs selectively bred for their fighting characteristics and those that are prone to ...unprovked attacks or injuries", the Court held that someone injured by a breach of the law did not have a legal right to use the ordinance to establish fault.  The ordinance is basically deemed a matter of police and criminal regulation of animals, only.  It doesn't create a "private cause of action" for violation unless it expressly says as much in the ordinance.

With that reasoning, even though the Ordinance made owners "strictly liable" for injuries that resulted, and even though it required owners to purchase at least $100,000.00 in liability coverage, the judges rejected the victim's argument that the Ordinance should be applicable to this incident and provide coverage for her.  The judges, apparently recognizing the weakness of this reasoning, went on to hold that the Ordinance wouldn't apply to the landlords in this incident, in any event, because they deemed a landlord as not "harboring" or exercising "control over" or "knowingly permit[ting] an animal to remain on" its premises, as "ownership" was defined in the Ordinance.  Sometimes even the best of legislative intentions can be defeated by jurists with an insurance-oriented, special interest proclivity.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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