Brief Fact Summary.
Reinhardt Jahnke (Jahnke) owned a bull named Fred who did not have a history of exhibiting any violence against persons on the farm or any other farm animals. While doing repair work on the farm, Larry Bard (Bard) was attacked by Fred and Bard sued Jahnke.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
The owner of a domestic animal is not responsible for harm caused by the animal if the owner did not know or have reason to know of the animal’s predisposition to violence.
Reinhardt Jahnke (Jahnke) owned a dairy farm where he permitted a bull named Fred to impregnate cows located on the farm. Jahnke never had issues with Jahnke’s performance, including any violence or threat of violence against persons or other farm animals. Jahnke’s son hired John Timer to do some repair work on the farm, and hired Larry Bard (Bard) as his assistant. Fred attacked Bard and Bard sued Jahnke. Expert testimony by a professor of animal science revealed that bulls are inherently dangerous animals and should be restrained by their owners. The trial court thereby granted summary judgment in Bard’s favor, and the Appellate Division reversed due to Jahnke’s lack of knowledge of Fred’s vicious nature. The New York Court of Appeals granted certiorari.
Whether or not the owner of a domestic animal is responsible for harm caused by the animal if the owner was not aware of the animal’s inclination to violence?
An animal that behaves in a manner that would not necessarily be considered dangerous or ferocious, but nevertheless reflects a proclivity to act in a way that puts others at risk of harm, can be found to have vicious propensities—albeit only when such proclivity results in the injury giving rise to the lawsuit.View Full Point of Law
(Smith, J). New York is the only state where a court has failed to adopt the Restatement (Second) of Torts, §518, where the owner of a domestic animal is liable to a defendant for harm caused by an animal if the owner negligently fails to prevent harm caused by the animal, even if the owner does not know of the animal’s acclimation towards violence. If the principles of negligence were applied, Jahnke would be held liable for Bard’s injuries.
Section 509 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts requires that an owner of a domestic animal who knows of the animal’s violent affinities can be held strictly liable for any harm caused by that domestic animal as a result of the animal’s violence. A defendant’s knowledge of the animal’s violence can be proven by the owner’s awareness of similar violent acts committed by the animal in the past. In the case of Jahnke, Fred had never exhibited any violent behavior towards other animals or any humans, nor had Fed ever been restrained on the farm. Jahnke, therefore, cannot be held strictly liable for any harm caused by Fred as a result of Fred’s violence.