Kentucky Bill Would Shield Landlords From Liability in Dog Bite Cases

By Bruce Schreiner | March 8, 2017

Kentucky lawmakers gave final approval Monday evening to a bill protecting landlords from liability in dog attacks on their rental property when the animals belong to their tenants.

The measure stems from a 2012 Kentucky Supreme Court ruling that said landlords could be liable if their tenants’ dogs bite people. Lawmakers critical of the decision have tried since then to undo the ruling but didn’t succeed until they wrapped up work on the latest measure Monday.

The Senate sent the measure to Republican Gov. Matt Bevin on a 32-5 vote. The legislation cleared the House on an 87-9 vote last month.

The court’s decision expanded the definition of a dog owner” to include landlords in dog-attack cases, the bill’s supporters said. The ruling meant landlords could be found liable for dog attacks even if they had no knowledge of the animal’s existence or tendency to bite, they said.

The result is higher liability insurance costs for landlords, they said. It also could make it harder for dog owners to find rental property where the animals are allowed, they said.

“Without this fix, landlords can expect to be sued in more cases of dog bites, without regard to the landlord’s knowledge,” said Republican Sen. Ralph Alvarado of Winchester.

By revising the definition of a dog owner, the bill would restore the status quo before the Supreme Court decision, supporters said.

The bill’s lead sponsor, Republican Rep. Stan Lee of Lexington, gave a thumbs-up from the side of the Senate chamber after his measure won final passage.

Dog-bite victims would still have legal recourse if his bill becomes law, he said.

“If you are the true owner of a dog, you’ve got a responsibility,” Lee said in an interview after the Senate vote. “And if you’re dog bites someone, you could be held liable.”

Similar proposals died in recent legislative sessions. Lee called his bill a “common sense response to what I thought was a bad decision from the Kentucky Supreme Court.”

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