Saturday, April 29, 2017

Is a dog a product?

The Abnormal Use blog is reporting on an interesting story about a lawsuit against a Humane Society pet shelter based on the fact that a dog adopted from the agency bit a 15-month old child. What is interesting is that the cause of action is based on product liability principles.  The case apparently argues that the agency failed to warn the Greene’s of the risks of transitioning a dog from a shelter to a home and of a dog’s potential dangerous propensities. 

Although it might seem odd to think of a dog as a product at first - mostly because it is not "made" or "manufactured" - dogs are "things" when it comes to the law.  Most jurisdictions will not grant more than their market value in a claim against someone who kills a pet, for example.  Also, animals or all sorts are bought and sold in the market, and not all as pets.  For this reason, I would not be surprised if there are other cases that consider animals as products in the context of products liability, although I can't say I remember having seen any lately other than cases involving dead animals, aka food for humans.

Yet, I agree with Abnormal Use that there does not seem to be a need to use strict liability to support the claim.  A simple negligence claim for lack of proper warnings would be sufficient. 

If the claim were to be argued as a negligence claim for failure to warn, though, there is another interesting issue looming over the case:  whether the defendant should have warned the consumer that the dog was a pit bull mix.  This opens the door to the debate on whether knowledge that the dog was of a particular specific breed creates a duty to warn - something I have written about before many times.  The generally accepted view is against imposing such a duty, but there are cases that have recognized it and there is credible (at least to me) evidence that suggests the argument has some validity to it.

The case was just filed recently, and my guess is that like most cases it will be settled quietly.  But who knows, maybe it will work its way through the courts and bring up the issues to the forefront again.  We'll have to wait and see.

No comments: