Is a Dog Owner Responsible for Scaring Someone That Falls or Runs and Gets Hurt?

November 18, 2015 9:19 pm Published by

Nava v. McMillan, 123 Cal.App.3d 262, 176 Cal. Rptr. 473 (1981)

Can bring a lawsuit against a dog owner if you the dog scares you and you get hurt?


Are you responsible if your dog scares someone and the person is injured?



A teenager was walking by a a fenced dog. She claimed the dog scared her so much she stepped off the sidewalk. When she stepped off the sidewalk she was struck by a vehicle. The teenager by and through her guardian ad litem filed suit alleging negligence against the dog owner.


The court reasoned that the real basis for negligence, is not carelessness, but behavior which society in general views as involving an unreasonable risk of harm to others. To determine whether a duty exists, the following factors must be weighed: the foreseeability of harm, the degree of certainty of injury, the closeness of the connection between the defendant’s conduct and the injury suffered, the moral blame attached to the defendant’s conduct, the policy of preventing future harm, the extent of the burden to the defendant and the consequences to the community of imposing a duty to exercise care with resulting liability for breach, and the availability, cost, and prevalence of insurance for the risk involved.
The dogs behavior of barking and jumping against the fence which separated them from the sidewalk, the court deemed to be common for a dog. In this case that is all the dogs did. They did not jump over the fence of the premises at which they were kept. The dogs never touched plaintiff. The court explained that an owner or occupier of land has a privilege to use the land according to his own desires. In this case defendants could not reasonably foresee that the mere appearance of the dogs at the fence or their barking might cause plaintiff to become frightened and to run into the street where she was subsequently struck by an automobile.
There could be no moral blame because the dog owners here as they kept the dogs on premises completely surrounded by chain link fencing. Imposing a duty as suggested by plaintiff would be totally unreasonable. The court deemed the duty imposed by plaintiff to offend common sense.
There is nothing inherently dangerous in the ownership of a dog which is kept securely behind a fence. Keeping a pet dog is a constitutionally protected right to own personal property. To most people it is more than ownership of mere personal property. The dog is not a wild animal like a grizzly bear, and the dogs is presence in home is expected.

Imposing a rule where a plaintiff could recover by imposing liability upon the owner of a fenced dog, which by its mere presence frightens a passerby irrespective of any unreasonable or excessive timidity on the part of the passerby would be unreasonable and unfair.

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This post was written by Orange Dog Bite Attorney

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