If the fleas or ticks on your dog cause someone to get sick are you responsible?

January 25, 2016 7:32 pm Published by

Butcher v. Gay, 29 Cal.App.4th 388, 34 Cal. Rptr.2d 771 (1994)

Is a dog owner responsible for injuries caused to a guest by the insects on a dog?

Only if the owner knew the dog was carrying those dangerous insects and knew the insects were dangerous.

If the fleas or ticks on your dog cause someone to get sick are you responsible?

yes, if you knew about them and knew they were carrying the particular disease.

SUMMARY OF FACTS

Peggy Gay owned a pet dog named Pansy since 1988. Peggy had been living at 1701 Zermatt Drive in Pine Mountain Club since1989. She had never seen had never seen a western black-legged tick, and had never been told by any person that the western black-legged tick was prevalent in or indigenous to the Pine Mountain area. She became acquainted with plaintiff in 1990 and invited plaintiff to stay as a guest in the Gay home during a local community festival. Plaintiff arrived in Pine Mountain on August 4, 1990, and left the Gay home on August 5, 1990. At no time during the visit to the Gay home did she say she had seen a western black-legged tick or any other insect. She did not that she had been bitten by any tick or insect, or complain of any rash or skin irritant. At no time prior to the visit had anyone told Peggy that someone had been bitten by a western black-legged tick in the Pine Mountain area. No guests to her home complained of seeing any fleas or western black-legged ticks on the Gay property, or tick bites. She had not seen or heard any announcement about the presence of Lyme disease in California, and had not received information that the western black-legged tick was a carrier of the disease.

Peggy kept Pansy groomed and clean and used flea and tick shampoos on a monthly basis to repel these insects. She had never seen any evidence of a tick or flea actually present on Pansy. Pansy’s veterinarian was Dr. Diane Cosko had never told Peggy that of finding fleas or ticks on Pansy.

Dr. Cosko stated that she had examineed Pansy and that during her examination she had never found Pansy to possess a tick or any portion of a tick. Nor did she see any sign that Pansy had been bitten by a tick or that Pansy exhibit any symptoms of Lyme disease. Dr. Cosko also stated that prior to August 15, 1990, she had not been informed of any tick in Kern County testing positive for the Lyme disease bacteria. At no time prior to August 4 had she received any warning notices from the California State Department of Health or the local mosquito abatement district regarding the presence of Lyme disease.

Dan Bird, M.D., offered the opinion that plaintiff was not suffering from Lyme disease.
Wilfred Ellis, M.D., stated that he was a medical doctor specializing in the area of infectious diseases, that he had examined appellant and that he was of the opinion that plaintiff was suffering from “Stage III Lyme disease.”

COURT’S OPINION

The trial court held the dog owner was not responsible and the appellate court confirmed. In order for a plaintiff to succeed in a negligence action brought against a defendant, the plaintiff must demonstrate (1) the existence of a duty of due care owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, (2) defendant’s breach of that duty, and (3) injury or damage to the plaintiff that is (4) legally caused by the defendant’s breach. Duty is not an immutable fact of nature but only an expression of the sum total of those considerations of policy which lead the law to say that the particular plaintiff is entitled to protection. In California, the general rule is that all persons have a duty to use ordinary care to prevent others being injured as the result of their conduct.

A duty generally does not arise in the context of negligence unless there is some awareness of a danger and some responsibility for it. Insects are a part of life and it is reasonable to conclude a person cannot be held responsible for their existence. When a person has not created an environment cultivate insects, then the insects are simply part of the inherent risks of living. Where a persons is aware, or should have been aware, that an animal that she is responsible for has created a risk of harm as a result of infestation by a dangerous insect, then failure to act might result in liability for harm.

The issue a duty extends so far as to include warning a house guest not to allow a dog on her lap, or to require the taking of other steps to prevent the possible transmission of a Lyme disease carrying tick from the dog to the guest, if the owner does not have, and could not reasonably be expected to have, any knowledge that his dog posed any such danger to the guest.

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