Nebraska High Court to Hear Appeal of Dog Injury

September 22, 2009

The Nebraska Supreme Court will hear a case that could decide whether liability for damages caused by dangerous dogs extends to injuries caused by playful pups.

The issue is raised by a Lincoln woman who says a playful golden retriever caused her knee injury.

Anne Underhill sued Shiloh Hobelman of Lincoln in 2007, about 18 months after she says Hobelman’s dog bounded up to her, injuring her knee.

The golden retriever was a service dog for Hobelman, who is confined to a wheelchair because of a muscular disease. Both Hobelman and Underhill have said in court documents that Underhill was on her way to visit Hobelman at his college dorm room on Dec. 31, 2005, when the dog — named Brady — spotted her and playfully ran up to her.

Underhill says the dog ran into her left knee, causing an injury requiring surgery. She sued in Lancaster County District Court, citing Nebraska law that provides for a dog-owner to be held liable for injuries caused by his or her dog. The lower court found in favor of Hobelman, citing precedent that interprets the law as excluding injuries caused by a dog’s playfulness.

Underhill’s attorney, Gary Nedved of Lincoln, argues that the lower court erred in finding that a dog owner is not strictly liable under the law, even if the injury occurred while the dog was acting playfully or mischievously.

Nedved writes that the law simply states dog owners are liable for damages caused “to any person, firm or corporation by reason of such dog or dogs killing, wounding, injuring, worrying or chasing any person.”

But Hobelman’s attorney, Travis O’Gorman of Lincoln, argues that the word “injuring” was added to the law’s language in 1992 — after the Nebraska Supreme Court had already determined in a 1975 case that the statute excluded liability for damages caused by playful or mischievous dogs.

“There is nothing in the statute which indicates that the Legislature intended to overrule the Supreme Court’s decisions refusing to apply (the law) to injuries arising from a dog’s playful or mischievous actions,” Gorman wrote in his reply to the appeal.

The high court has scheduled arguments for Oct. 8.

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