When a personal injury is sustained, one of the first legal questions is, “who is responsible?” That question recently came into play in a dog bite personal injury case.
Strathglass is the owner of eight residential units in Maine. One of those units was rented to Amy Canney who lived in the rental unit with her thirteen-year-old son, Nicholai.
Strathglass hired Eric Burns to provide on-site maintenance to the properties. Burns lived onsite near Amy Canney’s rental unit. He was not provided set hours for his employment with Strathglass. Rather, the company wanted him to work as needed, when tenants required assistance.
On the date of the incident, Eric Burns’ girlfriend invited Amy Canney’s son to use Eric’s swimming pool. However, the plan took a turn for the worse when Burns’ pit bull attached Amy’s son, biting down on his leg. The boy suffered serious injury.
Strathglass was aware that Eric Burns kept the dog on property but did not have reason to believe that the dog was dangerous. A personal injury lawsuit soon followed.
Amy Canney filed a lawsuit against both Eric Burns and Strathglass. Strathglass was included in the lawsuit because Amy Canney believed that Eric Burns was an agent, servant and/or employee of Strathglass at the time the incident occurred since he was maintaining the property to the company’s benefit at the time the dog bite occurred by way of his always “on.
However, the lower court felt that Eric Burns was the one at fault, not Strathglass, citing the fact that Eric Burns was not acting within the scope of his employment with Strathglass at the time of the dog bite. The court further found that there was no evidence of the dog’s dangerous propensities prior to the incident.
Amy Canney appealed the court’s ruling.
The higher court analyzed the scope of employment issue by reviewing The Restatement (Third) of Agency. More specifically, the court cited that an employee is deemed to be acting within the scope of employment when they perform work that is assigned by the employer or engage in conduct that is subject to the employer’s control. The higher court reasoned that Eric Burns was hired by Strathglass to provide on-site assistance to tenants. However, being “on-call” does not mean that Eric Burns was constantly acting within the scope of employment without any reprieve. Amy Canney’s son entered Eric Burns’ yard for an activity that had nothing to do with his employment. Further, no evidence was provided that showed that Eric was performing work assigned by Strathglass at the time the bite occurred.
As a result, the higher court affirmed the lower court’s ruling and Strathglass was not responsible for the dog bite or the resulting injury.
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