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Washington cases are consistent with the Restatement (Second) of Torts (1977). Two separate causes of action are recognized against the owner of a domestic animal that causes injury. Strict liability applies where the animal has known dangerous propensities abnormal to its class. And, if there are no known abnormally dangerous propensities, the owner is liable only if he is negligent in failing to prevent the harm. The amount of care required is commensurate with the character of the animal. The law has not regarded bulls, stallions and rams as being abnormally dangerous animals to be kept under the strict liability. Overall, the common law has been satisfied with the generalization that livestock and dogs are not excessively dangerous and has applied this generalization to all livestock and dogs.
Rodney MacHugh’s ram attacked Jay Rhodes, resulting in the latter’s injuries. Rhodes filed the present action to recover for his injuries, relying exclusively on the theory of strict liability. Rhodes did not contend that the ram was abnormally dangerous, instead, he asked the court to extend the theory of strict liability to owenrs of all rams, not just those known to be abnormally dangerous. MacHugh’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the claim was granted. Rhodes appealed.
Was MacHugh not strictly liable for the harm caused by a ram he did not know to be abnormally dangerous, thereby justifying the grant of summary judgment in his favor?
The court held that the grant of summary judgment in favor of MacHugh was proper because existing Washington common law struck the appropriate balance in imposing limited strict liability on the owners of domestic animals and otherwise imposing a duty of care commensurate with the character of their animals. Under Washington common law, third parties had recourse for an owner's negligence, and owners were required to take greater precautions to confine and control animals in light of their characteristics. In this case, Rhodes’ unfortunate excursion with MacHugh’s ram did not persuade the court that the limited scope of strict liability that Washington has historically imposed on the owners of domestic animals should be enlarged.