Listen! Rescue dog groups are made up of some of the kindest (but determined) folks I know. But the very nature of their activity makes them vulnerable to legal action.
Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips Tells Dog Rescue Groups How To Avoid Liability:
Over 1 million web pages mention “dog rescue groups legal liability” according to Google. The reason: dog rescue groups and adoption organizations are being held legally liable for dog bites. Being non-profit, having limited resources, and doing good works are not grounds for defense when someone gets hurt.
But there are steps that such organizations can take to protect themselves, according to Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips, the author of Dog Bite Law and owner of DogBiteLaw.com. Phillips talked about several of them at the Santa Barbara – Ventura Veterinary Medical Association’s mini-symposium for shelter and rescue groups.
One such step is to avoid taking ownership of dogs that come into the shelter. Phillips explained that owning a dog is the key ingredient for liability in states that have dog bite statutes. As he puts it, in those jurisdictions, “if you own the dog, you’re ‘it’!” In other words, the owner is liable for bite injuries simply because, generally speaking, he is the owner of the dog. So, to avoid incurring automatic liability, he counsels against taking ownership.
A “bailment” relationship is preferable. When the owner of property puts it into the hands of another person but retains ownership, the arrangement is referred to as a “bailment.” Adoption and rescue groups need to make it clear that they are nothing but “bailees” and not “owners” of the dogs in their custody.
Another protective measure is a waiver form that is signed by people who come to the shelter to hopefully adopt a new dog. He explained that even laying out a room incorrectly can lead to liability for certain accidents.
As an example, he told the audience about a client’s injury at a humane society office. The young woman brought her dog there to register it. The seats for customers were in the middle of the room. New dogs, fresh off the street (so to speak), were brought in from a door on her left, and taken out through a door on her right.
When one such dog was led along that path, it went after her dog, which was on her lap. In the fracas that ensued, the woman’s hand was bitten severely, causing very serious damage. Phillips said he won a sizable settlement for her, in what he referred to as “the waiting room case.” The point of the story: have clients and customers sign waivers of liability when they enter the premises.
You can view a video of Phillips’ entire address to the symposium at the Dog Bite Law website: http://dogbitelaw.com/33k
About Kenneth M. Phillips: Kenneth is the only attorney in the USA who does nothing other than represent people who have been seriously injured by dogs. Widely recognized as the nation’s leading authority on dog bite law, he has earned tens of millions of dollars for dog bite victims all over the USA. He has been a frequent guest on CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC, MS-NBC, and Fox News, and has been called “the dog bite king” (Today Show and Lawyers Weekly), “a leading expert in dog bite law” (Good Housekeeping), and “the nation’s best known practitioner of terrier torts” (Los Angeles Times).