What is the personal injury liability of city animal shelters? 16 Answers as of August 17, 2011

I have a question about the extent of liability that a city animal shelter has when adopting out dogs. If a dog they adopt out turns out to be aggressive and bites someone, are they in any way accountable? Does their liability change if they let the adopter know the dog has shown aggressive tendencies?

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Lacy Fields, Attorney at Law, LLC
Lacy Fields, Attorney at Law, LLC | Lacy Fields
I would think they could be liable if they knew the dog was aggressive, failed to warn the adopting family, and someone in the adopting family was injured. They may also be liable if the adopting family had the dog in a situation where the dog hurt someone else, but only as long as the family did not know about the aggressive tendencies. However, if the shelter warns the family, the family ignores the warning, and then the family member or someone else is hurt, I believe the family would be responsible for the damages.
Answer Applies to: Missouri
Replied: 8/17/2011
The Law Office of Josh Lamborn, P.C.
The Law Office of Josh Lamborn, P.C. | Josh Lamborn
It is possible I suppose to think of a scenario where an animal shelter was negligent in adopting out an aggressive animal. For instance, if the shelter received a pit bull or other notorious breed and the shelter knew that the animal bit two children in the past and they adopt the dog out to a family that has small children representing that the dog is gentle, then I think most people would say that if the dog bit one of the kids the shelter would have liability. However, while this scenario is unrealistic and extreme, I think it would take something like that to happen before the shelter would be liable. It would have to be a scenario where a reasonable shelter operator should have known that the animal was dangerous and failed to take the proper precautions. If the operator adequately warns the adopting owner, it is likely that they have taken reasonable steps to avoid liability.
Answer Applies to: Oregon
Replied: 8/15/2011
Coulter's Law
Coulter's Law | Coulter K. Richardson
I have my doubts that a shelter would adopt out a dog that showed aggressive tendencies. They put those dogs down. Your question depends on who is asking. It is highly likely that the person that adopted the dog signed a waiver that absolved the shelter of any liability. Why would you want to sue a shelter? They are not big money targets and they perform an extremely valuable public service.
Answer Applies to: New Jersey
Replied: 8/15/2011
A. Daniel Woska & Associates, P.C.
A. Daniel Woska & Associates, P.C. | Dan Woska
Unfortunately, I am not up on city animal shelter law and will need to suggest you contact an attorney who does city and municipal work. The city is sovereign and therefore it will have limitations on any liability that exists and may also have a very short statute of limitations so do not delay in finding an attorney.
Answer Applies to: Oklahoma
Replied: 8/12/2011
Law Office of Jared Altman
Law Office of Jared Altman | Jared Altman
You probably signed a receipt that made it "buyer beware". But, if the shelter knew of vicious propensities and did not warn you then they could be liable. But, good luck trying to prove what they knew.
Answer Applies to: New York
Replied: 8/12/2011
    David F. Stoddard
    David F. Stoddard | David F. Stoddard
    I am not familiar with any case law addressing this issue, so I can only guess. If the shelter has reason to know a dog is aggressive, I could see an argument for holding the shelter liable. However, if they warned the adopter, I do not think the shelter could then be held liable.
    Answer Applies to: South Carolina
    Replied: 8/12/2011
    ROWE LAW FIRM | Jeffrey S. Wittenbrink
    Normally a known aggressive animal will not be sent for adoption from a shelter, but will be destroyed. Most animal shelters will have the adoptive "parent" sign a waiver, since the animals adopted are "strays" and their history is not usually known. That being said, if it can be proven that the shelter workers knew or had reason to know that a given animal was aggressive and sent it for adoption anyway, there could be a negligence cause of action. The difficulty will be in the proof.
    Answer Applies to: Louisiana
    Replied: 8/12/2011
    Bernard Huff, Attorney/Mediator
    Bernard Huff, Attorney/Mediator | Bernard Huff
    Contact your local human society office or the State's Attorney General's office for a reply to your questions.
    Answer Applies to: Indiana
    Replied: 8/12/2011
    Bulman Law Associates PLLC Injury Law Firm
    Bulman Law Associates PLLC Injury Law Firm | Thomas Bulman
    In order to have a viable case, you would need to show the city employee was crazy careless. For example, suppose he knew the dog would attack the color red for no reason, and the employee failed to warn you about this quirk. If the dog just bit you or a guest, you are responsible for the damage your pet causes. Take responsibility for your contributing actions or inactions and remember, a jury is composed of city taxpayers. It is easy for them to just blame you than risk a tax hike. So a lawsuit against the city is always an uphill struggle.
    Answer Applies to: Montana
    Replied: 8/12/2011
    Gary Moore, Attorney at Law
    Gary Moore, Attorney at Law | Gary Moore
    Adopting a dog is not the same as buying a dog. To be liable the shelter would have to have knowledge of the dog's aggressive tendencies.
    Answer Applies to: New Jersey
    Replied: 8/12/2011
    Cody and Gonillo, LLP
    Cody and Gonillo, LLP | Christine Gonilla
    Without doing the research it is unknown whether there may be immunity since the shelter is run by the city. But under CT law persons who are bit by dogs have a cause of action whether or not the owner is aware of any aggressive tendencies as long as they did not tease torment or abuse the dog and were not trespassing.
    Answer Applies to: Connecticut
    Replied: 8/12/2011
    Patrick M Lamar Attorney
    Patrick M Lamar Attorney | Patrick M Lamar
    I do not believe they would have any liability.
    Answer Applies to: Alabama
    Replied: 8/12/2011
    Paul Whitfield and Associates P.A.
    Paul Whitfield and Associates P.A. | Paul L. Whitfield
    I don't think there is a clear answer. In law everything has to be "reasonable" If you adopt a dog you take him as you see him. If they know that he has vicious propensities and they don't tell you and you are hurt as a direct result, there may be liability . But as far as being a guarantor no.
    Answer Applies to: North Carolina
    Replied: 8/12/2011
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