When Animals Attack What Does Indiana Law Say?

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion in a personal injury lawsuit between a landowner and a person injured on the landowner’s property after a ram owned by the landowner headbutted the person, causing her to fall and fracture her arm, which required surgery.

In deciding the case, the Court of Appeals reviewed Indiana premises liability law, Indiana law on injuries caused by domestic animals, Indiana negligent entrustment law, Indiana negligent supervision law, and Indiana vicarious liability law.

The landlord in this case was in Florida and left her home in Indiana, including animals on her property, under the care of her half-brother. The landowner’s half-brother invited the plaintiff onto the property to help care for an ill goat. While attempting to help the goat, the plaintiff was injured. The plaintiff sought to hold the landowner liable for her injuries on the basis of premises liability, negligent entrustment, negligent supervision, and vicarious liability. Both parties moved for summary judgment, and the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the landowner.

Under Indiana premises liability law, a landowner owes the highest duty of care to an invitee. A landowner must exercise reasonable care for an invitee’s protection while the invitee is on the premises. While the landowner in this case argued that the plaintiff was not an invitee, the Court disagreed and found the plaintiff was an invitee because the plaintiff had been invited onto the property by the landowner’s half-brother, which was reasonably foreseeable to the landowner.

The duty of landowners to exercise reasonable care for the protection of invitees includes, not only conditions on the land, but also activities being conducted on the land, such as maintenance of a domestic animal. Owners or keepers of domestic animals must provide for restraining and confinement of their animals to protect against personal injuries. Generally, however, an owner of a domestic animal is not liable for injuries caused by a domestic animal unless the animal had dangerous propensities that were known, or which should have been known, by the owner. An owner or keeper of the animal must exercise reasonable care under the circumstances to protect against harm where the plaintiff can establish (1) a defendant’s knowledge that a particular animal has a propensity for violence, or (2) a defendant’s ownership of a member of a class of animals that are known to have dangerous propensities, such that the defendant is bound to have knowledge of the potential danger.

In this case, while the ram in question had never exhibited any dangerous propensities, the plaintiff presented expert testimony that rams, as a class, do have dangerous tendencies under some circumstances, such as those present in this case, which the landowner is held to have known. As such, the question became whether the landowner took reasonable precautions to prevent the ram from causing injuries to the plaintiff while on the landowner’s property. The Court of Appeals held that this presented a genuine issue of material fact, precluding entry of summary judgment.

Under Indiana law on negligent entrustment, a plaintiff must show (1) an entrustment, (2) to an incapacitated person or one who is incapable of using due care, (3) with specific and actual knowledge that the person is incapacitated or incapable of using due care at the time of the entrustment, (4) proximate cause, and (5) damages. The Court of Appeals held that the plaintiff in this case failed to present evidence that the landowner had specific and actual knowledge of any incapacity or inability to use due care on behalf of the landowner’s half-brother, and therefore affirmed the trial court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of the landowner on this issue.

As to the plaintiff’s negligent supervision claim, the Court of Appeals held that the plaintiff in this case failed to produce sufficient authority to support her claim that the landowner, who was not in an employer-employee relationship with her half-brother, could be held liable for negligent supervision of her half-brother. In so holding, the Court noted the precedent set forth by the Indiana Supreme Court in Sedam v. 2JR Pizza Enters., LLC, 84 N.E.3d 1174 (Ind. 2017) which can be found here.  In Sedam the Supreme Court rejected an invitation to adopt Section 7.05 of the Third Restatement of Agency, which provides for the liability of a principal who conducts activity through an agent when the harm was caused by the principal’s negligence in selecting, training, retaining, supervising, or otherwise controlling the agent.  The basis the Sedam Court gave was Indiana’s adoption of section 317 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, which provides that a master has a duty to exercise reasonable care to control a servant while the servant is acting outside the scope of the servant’s employment, and when the servant is acting within the scope of the servant’s employment, a master can be held liable under vicarious liability.

As to any vicarious liability of the landowner, the Court held that the plaintiff failed to raise this basis for liability before the trial court, and therefore, waived it to the extent that it was being raised for the first time on appeal. Additionally, the Court noted that the plaintiff did not raise or seem to claim, even on appeal, that the landowner’s half-brother was negligent, much less provide proof of such negligence. As noted by the Court of Appeals, there can be no vicarious liability of a master/principal when there is no underlying negligence of an employee/agent.

In sum, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment on the basis of premises liability, holding the question of whether the landowner took reasonable precautions to prevent the ram from causing injury to the plaintiff was a question for the jury. However, the Court upheld the trial court’s grant of summary judgment on the basis of negligent entrustment, negligent supervision, and vicarious liability.

You can read the full opinion here.

The personal injury lawyers at Barsumian Armiger handle personal injury claims, including dog bite lawsuits and lawsuits related to injuries caused by domestic animals, throughout southern and central Indiana. If you have suffered a dog bite or been injured by an animal and would like to know your legal rights, call Indiana personal injury attorneys Todd Barsumian and Jonathan Armiger for a free consultation at (812) 490-0820 or (317) 644-6975, or visit www.barsumianlaw.com.

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