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The Supreme Court of Louisiana holds that that the correct interpretation of La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 2321 is as follows: When a domesticated animal harms another, the master of the animal is presumed to be at fault. The fault so provided is in the nature of strict liability, as an exception to or in addition to any ground of recovery on the basis of negligence, La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 2316. The owner may exculpate himself from such presumed fault only by showing that the harm is caused by the fault of the victim, by the fault of a third person for whom he is not responsible, or by a fortuitous event.
Plaintiff bystander was walking his toy poodle on the sidewalk across the street from the owners' residence. The defendant owner's large German shepherd was running loose on his lawn, in the presence of the owners' father. Without warning, the shepherd ran across the street and attacked the poodle. The bystander stepped in and fought off the shepherd with his foot while picking up the poodle. The shepherd then jumped up, apparently still trying to get to the poodle, and bit the bystander deeply on his arm. The by stander brought a personal injury action and in dismissing the suit, the two lower courts held that the injured victim had the burden of proving that the owner of the animal was negligent and that this negligence caused the injury. The bystander sought review.
Under the circumstances, did the injured victim have the burden of proving that the dog owner was negligent?
On appeal, the court reversed the judgment. The court held that under La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 2321 when a domesticated animal harmed another, the master of the animal was presumed to be at fault. The court further ruled that the owner could exculpate himself from such presumed fault only by showing that the harm was caused by the fault of the victim, a third person for whom he was not responsible, or by a fortuitous event.