Down the Stretch He Comes – Trainer Not Liable to Boarder for Unleashed Dog that Injured Boarder (CA)

by

Plumer v. Rigdon (California)
(not published)

Plaintiff boarded her horse at Arroyo Del Mar Stables, and the defendant was a horse trainer at the stable.  Plaintiff was injured when the defendant’s dog ran into the barn, ran down the barn aisle, and then collided with plaintiff as it ran by, causing plaintiff to suffer a leg injury.  Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the defendant, alleging a single cause of action for negligence.  Defendant moved for summary judgment arguing “(1) no legal duty existed to prevent the injury caused by [defendant’s] dog; and (2) the presence of dogs was a condition known to [plaintiff] and a risk she assumed explicitly in a release agreement with the Stables and implicitly by her presence at the Stables.”  The trial court granted the defendant’s motion, finding that defendant owed not duty of care to plaintiff.  Plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration with the trial court citing San Diego County Code Ordinances and arguing that defendant “had a prima facie claim that [defendant’s] conduct in allowing the dog to run free violated the Ordinances.”  The trial court concluded it lacked jurisdiction to rule on the motion because it had already entered judgment.  Plaintiff then appealed the decision.

On appeal, the Court of Appeal for California affirmed the decision.  Plaintiff first argued that the defendant owed a duty of care based on a negligence per se theory under ordinances requiring that dogs be leashed.  However, the Court noted that the plaintiff failed to raise the negligence per se theory in opposition to the motion for summary judgment.  Plaintiff did not explain why she failed to raise the issue prior to the appeal, and the Court, therefore, concluded that she had forfeited the issue.

As to the common law negligence claim, the Court explained that it must evaluate “whether the category of negligent conduct at issue is sufficiently likely to result in the kind of harm experienced that liability may appropriately be imposed on the negligent party.”  Reviewing the evidence, the Court held that although the defendant’s dog “appeared ‘hype and not trained,’ there [was] no evidence the dog had propensity to run into objects or had otherwise injured a person.”  As a result it “was not reasonably foreseeable that the dog was likely to run into people and [the defendant] had no common law duty to confine the dog.

Plaintiff had also argued that allowing the dog to run free was a violation of the posted rules at the stable, which stated that dogs were not allowed.  However, the Court highlighted that the plaintiff had not sued the stable, and the Court stated that evidence presented by the stable by way of declaration provided that the “no dogs rule” applied to horse boarders (like plaintiff) and not to horse trainers (like defendant).

The Court’s opinion did not specifically address the impact of the “release agreement with the Stables” mentioned early in the opinion.

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