Richard Sanzare was bitten by a dog owned by two people who leased a residence in the Coconut Key community. The bite occurred while Sanzare walked his own dog on a non-dedicated street running through the community, a “common area” owned by the Association. Sanzare filed a negligence action against the Association for the dog-bite. The Association then moved for summary judgment on the basis liability for the dog-bite incident could be extended only to the owner of the dog or the landlord of the property where the dog was kept. In other words, the Association argued it owed no duty to Sanzare. The trial court agreed and entered final summary judgment in favor of the Association. However, the Appellate Court disagreed and ruled that factual issues remained regarding whether the Association knew of the presence of the animal and its vicious propensities, and the Association’s ability to control the dog’s presence in the common areas. The case was remanded to the trial court to have a jury decide these factual issues, as well as the damages suffered by the Plaintiff.
Dog AttackingYour association cannot avoid being sued when someone is bitten by a domestic animal on association property, but it can take certain measures to reduce its liability. For instance, it should have strict policies – that are uniformly and consistently enforced — requiring dogs to remain on a leash anytime the animal is not contained or restrained on the owner’s property, or allowance of only certain types of animals on the property.  Additionally, owners who violate the policy should be notified in writing of the violation and a record kept of same. This evidence will go a long way in reducing, or perhaps eliminating, the association’s liability if they are sued for this type of negligence.