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David Lowe
David Lowe
Attorney • (414) 727-2200

Am I My Brother’s Dog’s Keeper?

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In a decision that reaffirms the policy of protecting the public from dog attacks, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals has ruled that a homeowner who shelters, protects or feeds a dog, even though the dog is owned by another, is liable for personal injury caused when the dog runs out of the house and attacks a passerby.

Collen Pawlowski was injured when a dog escaped from the front door of Nancy Seefeldt’s home, ran across the street and attacked Pawlowski. The dog was owned by Walter Waterman, who had been invited by Seefeldt to live temporarily in Seefeldt’s home with his dog, and had been living there for several months at the time of the dog attack. By the time Pawlowski filed suit, however, Waterman could not be located so the claim proceeded against Seefeldt, the homeowner, and her insurance carrier

Reviewing Wisconsin’s dog bite statute and the cases that have interpreted that law, the court ruled that Seefeldt and her insurance company were strictly liable for the dog attack victim’s injuries:

The purpose of WIS. STAT. § 174.02 "is to protect those people who are not in a position to control the dog. … the statute holds strictly liable those who are in a position to protect innocent third parties by exercising the authority arising from their custody, care or control relationship with the dog and its owner.

This decision serves the public interest in requiring those who harbor a dog to compensate dog bite victims when the dog escapes their control. By imposing the cost of compensation on those in a position to control a dog it is far more likely that responsible measures to leash the dog will be utilized and fewer injuries will occur.