Elaine Conoly was planning a vacation and used the now increasingly popular Rover app to have someone care for her dog. During her vacation, she received a horrific text message from the dog sitter. The message stated that another dog in her care had “mauled her dog and killed it instantly.” Apparently, a 150-pound mastiff had attacked her small dachshund. Conoly returned home and was further angered when the pet hospital where the animal was later taken was unable to locate the remains.
Apps such as Wag and Rover has been rising in popularity. Dog owners can schedule a dog-sitter or dog-walker in just minutes using their mobile device. This poses a question of whether these companies can potentially face civil liability for incidents such as what Conoly experienced.
Colorado Incident Leading to Legal Action
Conoly says that she received a brief apology via email from Rover. A company spokesman stated that “we are distraught” and expressed condolences. The company also said that the dog-sitter has been removed from their site. Conoly says that she is pursuing legal options to increase awareness and prevent future tragedies. She wants the company to be “held liable for their actions.”
Lisa D'Ambrosio who resides near Tampa also recently had a problem with the service. A security camera within her home showed that her Rover dog-sitter Sherry Fontan was stealing items from her. D'Ambrosio contacted the local authorities to report the theft of clothes and makeup. The Pasco County Sheriff's Department ended up charging Fontan with grand theft. Rover claims that they had performed a basic background screening on Fontan. The screening process did not reveal that she had a theft conviction back in 1987.
Potential Negligent Hiring and Screening Processes
A spokesperson for Rover told Action 41 News that the company does check the background of all dog-walkers and sitters. They claim that only 20% of applicants are approved. They currently have over 200,000 such individuals listed on their app internationally. The background check process is apparently conducted by a third-party screening provider. The basic background check looks at data from the sex offender registry, terrorist watch list, and a U.S. criminal databank. An “enhanced” background check is available that scans county court records; however, it only searches records from the prior seven years.
A sergeant with the Overland Park Police Department recently encouraged customers of such services to exercise caution when allowing these strangers into their homes. A Rover spokesman says that the company takes these matters “very seriously” and that they take “corrective actions” when needed. Customers such as Conoly and D'Ambrosio are obviously skeptical of these claims.
Claims against employers for negligent hiring regularly occur. Often plaintiffs will assert that the employer should have conducted proper due diligence in researching the background of potential employees. These types of civil actions are associated with a broader legal concept of vicarious liability. Essentially, this means that an employer may be deemed “vicariously” liable for the actions of their employees while they are performing the duties of their employment. This is also referred to as the concept of “respondeat superior,” which translates to “let the master answer.” Examples of employer liability include failures that stem from hiring, training and supervising.