The fact that the owner of a dog is generally responsible for any injuries caused by that dog is usually fairly straightforward. However, as evidenced by Pawlowski v. Am. Family Mut. Ins. Co., 2009 WI 105 (Wis. 2009) sometimes just determining who should be considered the owner of the dog can become quite complicated.
In Pawlowski, a woman named Nancy Seefeldt allowed a family friend, Walter Waterman, and his dogs to move into her home. Several months after Waterman moved into the home his dogs attacked a passerby. As Colleen Pawlowski was walking by the home, Waterman was bringing his dogs outside. The dogs rushed at Pawlowski; one of the animals went so far as to bite and knock her down. Due to the attack Pawlowski sued. However, Pawlowski did not sue Waterman, she sued Seefeldt and Seefeldt's homeowner's insurance.
Pawlowski was able to sue Seefeldt because Wisconsin's statutes define the "owner" of a dog as "any person who owns, harbors, or keeps a dog." Wis. Stat. 174.001(5) While Waterman may have owned the dogs, Seefeldt became an "owner" of the dogs by harboring them at her home and providing them with shelter.
Pawlowski had the option to sue the legal owner of the dog (Waterman) and/or the statutory owner of the dog (Seefeldt). Thus, even though Waterman was the owner of the dogs and his actions led to the attack, Seefeldt was also liable.
*please note that this is general information only and not intended to be legal advice. If you have questions or need legal advice please setup an appointment with our attorney, or an attorney of your choosing.
Russell is an attorney with Nicolet Law Accident & Injury Lawyers. Russell represents injured clients in Hudson, New Richmond, River Falls, Prescott, Ellsworth, Roberts, Osceola, St. Croix Falls, Menomonie, Eau Claire, Chippewa Falls and surrounding areas of Wisconsin.
Nicolet Law Accident & Injury Lawyers has offices in Eau Claire, WI, Hudson, WI and Woodbury, MN and handles car accidents and other personal injury claims. For more information, call 1-855-NICOLET or visit www.nicoletlaw.com.