The Court of Appeal of Louisiana, Third Circuit, recently ruled in the summer of 2012 on an issue coming out of the Parish of Lafayette involving a variety of legal questions. In the case of Theresa St. Julien v. Julie Walters Landry, Julien was allegedly injured by her neighbor’s dog when it came free from her neighbor’s yard and knocked her down while on her own property. Immediately there are negligence and strict liability issues when it comes to this event: Who owned the animal? Who secured the animal? Who was in charge of the animal at the time of the accident?
The St. Julien case is a perfect example of how a mishap in filing documents, leading to admitted facts, can result in the downfall of a defendant who assumes responsibility by not denying it. After failing to answer the plaintiff’s complaint on time, Landry admitted to being the owner of the dog and that it was being kept on her property under her control. The court found that there were genuine issues on multiple material facts and for that reason reversed the decision of the lower court in favor of St. Julien, which will result in a trial. The larger issue for the public is whether it even mattered if Landry was determined to be the dog’s owner.
Dogs are one of the most commonly owned domestic animals and also result in a large number of injuries throughout the state of Louisiana but also across the country. Many times these injuries occur to complete strangers but, nevertheless, owners of inherently dangerous animals need to be responsible for injuries resulting from the actions of those animals. The harder question is what is to be done when the animal injures another while in the care of someone who is not the owner. This is why the courts of this nation have adopted the theory of strict liability.
As neighbors, we have a duty to one another to do what we can to prevent harm to each other. This theory of duty is the most basic principle that lies at the heart of the above case. The court describes the test to determine one’s duty to a neighbor as being “whether she acted as a reasonable person in relation to the probability of injury to others like the plaintiff,” citing Shelton v. Aetna Cas. and Sur. Co., and Ladner v. Fireman’s Ins. Co. of Newark.
According to this test one must always be on guard to “conform one’s conduct to that of a reasonable man in like circumstances.” In many people’s minds this creates a nation where we are all constantly looking over our shoulders to make sure we are acting appropriately, even while friends fasten their pets in our front yards. While the facts of this case vary from common injuries, the reality is that the concept of duty permeates a wide variety of legal issues that can impact people wherever they may be.