Dog related injuries: Kaweske vs DeRosa

The Kaweske vs DeRosa case is an interesting personal injury case (dog related injuries) as it defines very clearly how the law construes the notion of “dangerous propensities” on the part of an animal (in this case, a dog) and the notion of “at large” in respect to the freedom of motion given to animals in public places. 

Pamela Kaweske, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Thomas DeRosa, et al., Defendants.
No. CV-15-01198-PHX-GMS.
United States District Court, D. Arizona.
June 24, 2016

In Kaweske v. DeRosa (2016), a U.S. District Court case from the District of Arizona, plaintiff Pamela Kaweske and defendant Beatrice DeRosa were talking in a fenced-in dog park at Canyon Vistas RV Resort while their dogs played in the dog park; the dogs were not wearing leashes. DeRosa’s golden retriever, Jack, bumped into Kaweske from behind, causing her to lose her balance. Although Kaweske managed to grab DeRosa’s shoulders and prevent herself from falling, Kaweske alleges that she sustained serious injuries.

Plaintiffs sued under two theories: common law negligence and statutory strict liability. The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment filed by defendants and denied the cross-motion for summary judgment filed by plaintiffs.

The trial court began its discussion of the common law by noting that “liability for injury by animals ‘is imposed only if the owner knew or had reason to know the dangerous propensities of the animal’.” Defendant testified that her dog Jack generally behaved well around people aside from a tendency for him and other dogs to gather around people and run around their legs and that the dogs would occasionally bump into these people. This was the sole evidence cited by the court with respect to plaintiffs’ claim of “dangerous propensities” on the part of Jack, and the court held that defendants’ knowledge of such behavior by Jack did not give them any reason to know that Jack was dangerous. The court went further and cited another Arizona case that held that “testimony that ‘the dogs occasionally fought with each other and would snarl, growl, and bite each other’, and that the dogs’ owner warned children ‘not to come in the yard because the dogs might bite them’ was insufficient evidence of the dogs’ ‘dangerous propensities abnormal to their class’.” To find knowledge of “dangerous propensities,” defendants must have knowledge that their dog(s) are more dangerous than “normal” dogs.

Plaintiffs also alleged strict liability under A.R.S. § 11-1020, which provides that a dog owner is strictly liable for damages inflicted by an “at-large” dog. The court examined the meaning of the statute and found that dogs in an entirely fenced-in dog park were not “at large”, further found that no Arizona case provided support for plaintiffs’ position, and therefore found the statute did not apply.

Practice Pointer

It’s of course always easier with hindsight, but before going too far with a dog bite/attack case, ascertain what knowledge defendants had of any dangerous propensities of their dog, and remember that in general for a dog to be found to have “dangerous propensities” it will have to be more dangerous than run-of-the-mill dogs, especially if the dog has never before bitten or attacked anyone. Depositions early in the game might be called for, or perhaps requests for admission coupled with interrogatories, as would searches at any government agencies that would handle complaints about dogs.

About the author

David Hameroff is an experienced personal injury attorney. If you sustain injuries due to dog bites or a dog attack, call our Tucson office at (520) 792-4700 to discuss the elements of your case.