The principle that the landlord may have a duty with regard to matters within his control extends beyond common areas; it may be applicable to conditions in the leased premises. The landlord is liable for injuries to a tenant, and to any other person rightfully on the leased premises, caused by the landlord's neglect to remedy defects in, or by his improper management of, appliances of which he retains control. A landlord may be held liable for injuries caused by leakage from water pipes or other plumbing attachments in his control.
Shelly Morton is a tenant in an apartment building managed by the defendant Monocle Management, Ltd. and owned by the defendant Amberwood Associates Limited Partnership, Inc. The lease agreement signed between Morton and the defendant explicitly forbids the act of keeping pets on the premises. Nevertheless, Morton had her boyfriend’s pit bull in the apartment. According to several witness accounts, the dog was a “vicious” dog which exhibit aggressive behavior towards other people whenever Morton was not around. On February 9, 1994, Shanita Matthews, the plaintiff, and her 16-month old son Trevin Williams visited Morton in her apartment. When Morton was called away from the apartment during a brief period of time, the pit bull has attacked the baby. The injuries sustained by the child proved to be fatal as he died one hour after arriving at the hospital. Thereafter, on September 1994, the plaintiff commenced a torts lawsuit against defendants, landlord and owner, for wrongful death in count I, a survival action in count II, emotional distress and physical and psychological pain and suffering in count III, and reckless infliction of emotional distress in count IV. The Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the defendants, asserting that the defendants had no legal duty to Matthews for the demise of her child following the attack of the tenant’s pit bull in the defendants’ apartment complex despite the landlord’s knowledge of the and its dangerousness.
May landlords be liable for the death of a child attacked by a vicious dog kept by one of its tenants within its premises because they knew of the presence and viciousness of the dog?
The Court held that the defendants are liable for the death of the child attacked by a dog within its premises since the defendant had control under the lease agreement with regards to tenant’s possession of animals in the apartment. Furthermore, the Court ruled that the defendants had prior knowledge of the dog’s vicious behavior towards others and they were aware of the pit bull’s dangerous demeanor, thereby, they had foreseen the potential harm that may be caused by the dog. Due to all of these circumstances, the Court posited that the defendants have breached their duty under the lease agreement.