When is the Keeper (not the Owner) of a Dog Liable for Injuries to Another?

Herrling Clark Law Firm took a case all the way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in order to obtain compensation for their client that was attacked by a dog. The result was a published decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court finding in favor of the injured plaintiff.

A homeowner, Ms. Seefeldt, allowed Mr. Waterman and his two dogs to move into her home at a time when Waterman was unemployed and he needed somewhere to stay. He resided in the house for about four months before the attack.

As Colleen Pawlowski walked by the Seefeldt home, she heard a door open and watched as Waterman’s two unleashed dogs ran outside and began to charge her. Waterman chased the dogs and shouted for them to stop but he failed to restrain them. One of his dogs charged and jumped on Pawlowski, tearing her coat, biting her in the thigh, and puncturing her calf. As Pawlowski fell to her knees, Waterman was able to gain control of the dogs.

At the time of the dog attack, Seefeldt was at home but did not see the dog attack and did not learn about it until later that day when a police officer stopped by to investigate. Waterman remained in the home for two more months, then left and disappeared.

In Wisconsin, either a dog’s owner or keeper can be held liable for injuries caused by that dog. At trial, Seefeldt argued that the case against her should be dismissed because shortly before the incident, the owner, Waterman, had taken control of the dogs and was taking them out of the house to his car, and that she was no longer a keeper. The Trial Court agreed and the case was dismissed.

Herrling Clark appealed to the Court of Appeals, who reversed the Trial Court and held that Seefeldt was the keeper of the dog and remained the keeper at the time of Pawlowski’s injury.

Seefeldt then appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals. They noted that the concept of “harboring” and “keeper” were similar, and the liability of one who harbors a dog and one who keeps a dog is the same. She allowed the dogs to live in her home for several months, affording the dogs shelter and lodging. Seefeldt did not relinquish her status as a statutory owner (harborer) when the dog bit Pawlowski.

Herrling Clark assists clients throughout the Fox Valley region of Wisconsin with all areas of personal injury, including automobile and trucking accidents, nursing home negligence, products liability, wrongful death, and dog bites and animal attacks.

If you or a loved one has been bitten by a dog, speak with an experienced attorney at Herrling Clark about your legal rights and options. Contact a knowledgeable attorney at Herrling Clark by calling (920) 739-7366 or toll-free at (800) 559-7366 or visit http://www.herrlingclark.com/.