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Landlord Liable For Tenant's Dog Bite Injuries

A North Charleston landlord was liable for dog bite injuries caused by a trailer park tenant’s 100-pound Rottweiler, the Appeals Court has ruled in an unpublished decision.

The landlord, Evanston Mobile Home Park, owed the dog bite victim a duty based on the park’s prohibition against vicious and violent dogs, and a lease provision that said violators would be evicted, the appellate panel said.

A duty also sprang from the landlord’s repeated assurances that it “would take care of” the dog problem after numerous complaints from the plaintiff and other tenants, according to the opinion.

The court’s decision affirmed a $522,000 verdict that was reported to South Carolina Lawyers Weekly in 2001 (see Oct. 1, 2001 Lawyers Weekly). The full text of the original verdict report is reprinted on page 20 of this issue.

According to the report, the Rottweiler attacked the plaintiff and dragged him around the yard, severely injuring both of his hands and forearms.

The Appeals Court said the plaintiff relied on the rules against violent or vicious dogs, the landlord’s ability to evict violators and the landlord’s assurances that the problem would be resolved. That created a special relationship between the landlord and the plaintiff, giving rise to an affirmative duty on the landlord’s part, the court said.

“When a person — even if they don’t have duty to act — agrees and undertakes to act, then they must act with due care and in keeping with what they promised to do,” said the plaintiff’s attorney, Walter Bilbro Jr. of Charleston.

“I believe we established that there were duties created by the lease and the rules that they advised everybody would have to adhere to, and that they would enforce,” Bilbro told Lawyers Weekly. “They also said that they were going to uphold the North Charleston leash law.

“The court found that Evanston had a duty to enforce the rules, as well as the terms of the lease,” he said.

Bilbro said the facts of the case were different from a 1991 case, Mitchell v. Bazzle, 304 S.C. 402, 404 S.E.2d 910, that found another landlord not liable.

“This case was very different because this dog was constantly using the common way,” he said. “The dog was not restricted, like in Mitchell v. Bazzle, to a fenced-in yard that was exclusively under the control of the tenant.”

The landlord’s attorney, H. Clayton Walker Jr. of Columbia, told Lawyers Weekly that “Evanston is disappointed in the decision of the Court of Appeals and is evaluating its options.”

The per curiam case is Webb v. Kilcoyne et al. (South Carolina Lawyers Weekly No. 011-231-03, 7 pages).


In 1997, the plaintiff moved into a mobile home located in a trailer park owned by the defendant, Evanston, Inc. A neighbor who lived on an adjoining lot had a male Rottweiler that weighed between 85-100 pounds. The dog freely roamed the mobile home park and exhibited vicious propensities.

Evanston’s leases listed rules governing tenant conduct. One of the rules said, “No pets are allowed at any time…. No exceptions.” The leases stated that if a “tenant does not abide by said rules he or she will be considered ‘undesirable’ and an eviction notice will follow.”

General rules for the trailer park stated, “All pets must be secure.” The rules also said that the city’s leash law would be enforced, and “[n]o vicious or violent dogs are allowed in the park at all.”

The rules said that Evanston employees would regularly inspect the area to make sure tenants were in compliance with the rules.

About six months after moving to the park, the plaintiff contacted Evanston to complain that his neighbor’s dog had been aggressive toward him several times. The plaintiff complained to Evanston about the dog “over a dozen times” during the following year.

The plaintiff told Evanston that the dog interfered with his access to the property. He said the dog would growl, snap and act viciously toward his fiancée, young son and him. Other tenants complained as well.

The landlord told the plaintiff and other tenants on several occasions that it would “take care” of the problem.

In March 1999, the dog intimidated the plaintiff and his fiancée for about 10 minutes as they tried to get out of a taxi and go into their home. Once the couple was able to get out of the car, the dog chased the taxi down the street.

As the couple was about to go inside, the dog’s owner arrived next door. Soon after the plaintiff approached the owner to discuss his concerns about the dog, the dog returned and attacked the plaintiff.

The plaintiff tried to defend himself, but the dog dragged him around the yard. His fiancée called the police, and the dog’s owner managed to subdue the animal.

According to the 2001 Lawyers Weekly verdict report, the plaintiffs’ forearms and hands were “crushed, chewed and badly damaged.”

The plaintiff sued the dog’s owner for negligence, and later amended his complaint to include Evanston as a defendant.

Before trial, the plaintiff signed a covenant not to execute against the dog’s owner in return for $25,000.

The trial court denied Evanston’s motion for a directed verdict. The jury awarded the plaintiff $360,000 in actual damages and $162,000 in punitives. Evanston appealed.


Evanston argued that the trial court erred in concluding that the lease and park rules imposed a duty on it. The appellate panel disagreed.

“Evanston’s duty to [the plaintiff] initially arose by contract through the parties’ lease, the park rules, and Evanston’s affirmative promises to remedy the problem,” the opinion states.

“Additionally, a reasonable juror could infer a special relationship based upon [the plaintiff’s] reliance on the lease terms and park rules prohibiting ‘vicious or violent dogs’ as well as Evanston’s assurances to ‘take care of it,'” the opinion states.

The rules incorporated into the leases and the general rules for the park were evidence of Evanston’s duty to act, the Appeals Court said.

According to the opinion, “Evanston had a duty to enforce the park rules, specifically the prohibition of ‘vicious or violent dogs’ and the termination of the lease of a tenant who disobeys the rules.

“Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to [the plaintiff], he relied upon the contractual prohibition of ‘violent or vicious dogs,’ Evanston’s power to terminate the lease of a tenant who disobeys park rules, and Evanston’s assurances that it would take care of the problem,” the opinion states.

The appellate panel rejected Evanston’s argument that the case was directly analogous to Mitchell v. Bazzle. The Mitchell court said that a landlord was not liable for injuries caused by a tenant’s dog, even though the landlord knew the dog was vicious and the landlord had the right to cancel the dog owner’s lease before the attack.

According to the Webb court, “Mitchell differs from the present case in that Mitchell’s cause of action was based upon premises liability (a theory of negligent rental or entrustment of land) and concerned residential premises under the control of a tenant.

“Here, the causes of action were based in negligence and the [Residential Landlord and Tenant Act],” the opinion states.

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