Court of Appeal:
No Liability to Third Parties Based on Failure to Warn Purchaser of Dog as to Dangerousness
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A city and its employees cannot be held liable for the death of a man and severe injuries to a woman caused by an attack dog sold to the police officer who handled him, upon the officer’s resignation for the force, the Court of Appeal for this district declared yesterday, rejecting a theory that there was negligence in making the sale without warning that it would not be safe to treat the animal as a pet.
The dog, a male Belgian Malinois named Neo, attacked the two victims after escaping from the yard of Alex Geiger, formerly an officer in the police department of the City of Exeter in Tulare County. A jury in the San Luis Obispo Superior Court found liability totaling $12.5 million to the woman who was injured and assessed damages at $7 million in favor of the survivors of the man who weas killed.
It apportioned fault among the supervisor of the canine unit, the police chief, and Geiger. Yesterday’s unpublished opinion reverses the judgment in toto.
Justice Kenneth Yegan wrote that “[t]he defendant’s duty to control a third party may arise where the defendant has a special relationship with a foreseeably dangerous third party ‘that entails an ability to control that person’s conduct.’ ” He said the department’s special relationship with Geiger ended when he left its employ.
The jurist declared:
“We conclude appellants had no legal duty to provide more robust warnings under these circumstances because there was no special relationship between appellants and Geiger sufficient to enable appellants to control Geiger’s conduct….In the absence of a legal duty, appellants cannot be held liable in negligence for causing or contributing to respondents’ harm.
“In reaching this conclusion, we wish to emphasize that we do not doubt the ghastly nature of Neo’s rampage or the severity of respondents’ injuries. But liability sounding in negligence is not premised on the depth of sympathy we feel for victims or the law’s goal to compensate them at the expense of tortfeasors. As we have noted, the law does not permit us to impose on appellants a duty to control a former employee’s conduct. There was no reason to foresee his disastrous lack of judgment and common sense. On these facts, we have no choice but to reverse the judgment.”
Geiger—who was found to be 16.5 percent at fault—did not appeal. Yegan did not explain why the judgment as to him does not stand.
The case is Long v. City of Exeter, B316324.
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