Law School Case Brief
Pepper v. Triplet - 03-0619 ( La. 01/21/04), 864 So. 2d 181
To establish a claim in strict liability against a dog owner under La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 2321 (1996), the plaintiff must prove that his person or property was damaged by the owner's dog, that the injuries could have been prevented by the owner, and that the injuries did not result from the injured person's provocation of the dog. To establish that the owner could have prevented the injuries under art. 2321, the plaintiff must show the dog presented an unreasonable risk of harm.
The plaintiff Dustin Pepper and defendant Thomas Triplet were neighbors for many years. Defendant owned a 13-year-old Labrador/Huskie mixed breed named Bandit. The defendant’s backyard, where Bandit resided, was entirely fenced in. Although they had been neighbors for many years, the plaintiff had never been invited into the defendant’s house or backyard. Whenever children playing in the Peppers’ yard would accidentally toss a ball over the fence into the Triplets’ backyard, the custom, according to both parties, was for the child to knock on the Triplets’ door, and either the defendant or his wife would go into the yard to retrieve the ball. On November 11, 2000, the plaintiff entered defendant’s yard to retrieve his son’s ball, and was met by Bandit, who then followed him as he walked towards the ball. When the plaintiff reached down for the ball, Bandit bit him on the hand. The plaintiff pulled back his hand, and Bandit then bit him on the stomach. The plaintiff subsequently brought suit against the defendant. Following a one-day bench trial, the district court rendered a judgment in favor of the plaintiff, awarding him $37,632.92 in damages. According to the district court, the defendant could have prevented the injury and there was no evidence of provocation by the plaintiff. The appellate court affirmed. Defendant appealed.
Under the current legislation, was defendant liable for the injuries sustained by the plaintiff from the dog bite?
The supreme court granted the writ application and reversed the lower court's decisions, holding that La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 2321 (1996) required the plaintiff to prove that his person or property was damaged by the dog owner's dog, that the injuries could have been prevented by the dog owner, and that the injuries did not result from the neighbor's provocation of the dog. The supreme court further held that the plaintiff failed to show that the dog presented an unreasonable risk of harm. Thus, the plaintiff failed to establish a claim in strict liability under 2321. Lastly, after reviewing the facts of the case, the supreme court concluded that the plaintiff failed to carry his burden of proving that the dog owner's conduct was negligent under art. 2321.
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