Supreme Court Rules Out-of-Possession Landlords Not Liable for Tenant’s Pet Attack – by Timothy Mitchell

In a recently decided opinion, Tyner v Matta-Troncoso, No. S18G0364, 2019 WL 1104684, (Ga. Mar. 11, 2019), the Supreme Court of Georgia held that an out-of-possession landlord could not be held liable for bodily injuries inflicted by a tenant’s pet under either O.C.G.A. § 51-2-7 or O.C.G.A. § 44-7-14. In Tyner, a tenant’s dog injured a pedestrian when it escaped the landlord’s property through a broken gate latch that the landlord had previously failed to repair and knew was broken.

In regards to O.C.G.A. § 51-2-7, the Georgia statute concerning liability for injuries caused by vicious animals, the Court, reversing the Georgia Court of Appeals, held that a landowner is not a “person who owns of keeps” a dangerous animal under the statute, and that a landlord could therefore not be liable under this statute as a matter of law.

The Court’s ruling is more nuanced regarding O.C.G.A. § 44-7-14, the Georgia statute concerning the liability of landlord for negligence for failure to repair. Specifically, the Court held that, as O.C.G.A. § 44-7-14 is based on a claim of negligence, a plaintiff must show the elements of negligence to recover: duty, a breach of that duty, causation and damages. The Court found that the landlord in Tyner had a duty that it breached (the failure to repair the gate latch), but that the plaintiff’s claims lacked the proximate cause element due to the lack of any foreseeability on the part of the landlord that the dog attack would occur. The Court pointed to a complete lack of any evidence that the landlord knew of the dangerous propensities of the dog, which established a lack of reasonable foreseeability and therefore precluded a claim under O.C.G.A. § 44-7-14 as a matter of law. Based on these findings, the Court reversed the Georgia Court of Appeals and granted summary judgment to the landlord.

However, the language of the opinion in Tyner left open the potential for out-of-possession landlord liability for tenant animal attacks under O.C.G.A. § 44-7-14 in instances in which the landlord breached some duty to repair and knew of the dangerous propensity of the animal.