Knowledge of Potential Danger. In the absence of knowledge of a dog's dangerous propensities, an association is not liable for the injuries inflicted by the dog. Chee v. Amanda Goldt Property Management (2006). However, once a board is on notice that a dog is dangerous, it must take action to protect the membership from the dog or face potential liability for negligence and breach of fiduciary duties.
In March 2002, a jury convicted Marjorie Knoller of second degree murder because her dog mauled to death her neighbor, 33-year-old Diane Whipple, a college lacrosse coach. Whipple was bitten an estimated 77 times and had her neck torn apart. Marjorie Knoller and her husband were also found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and owning a "mischievous" animal, for which they were sentenced to 4 years in jail. The Knollers were fully aware of the aggressive tendencies of their dogs.
Prohibiting Aggressive Breeds. Condominium associations are vulnerable to the problem of aggressive dogs because indoor common hallways and elevators bring owners into close contact with dogs. Some associations have banned particular breeds of dogs altogether. This can be done through the adoption of a rule or by amending the CC&Rs.
Other Actions. Other actions that can be taken include requiring (i) aggressive dogs be muzzled, and (ii) limiting the size of dogs (the most common limitation is by weight with the following maximum weights being used most frequently by condominium associations: 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 or 45 pounds).
Owner Liability. The owner of any dog is liable for the damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner's knowledge of such viciousness. Civil Code § 3342. In addition to actions against owners for violation of CC&Rs and Rules, owners can be sued for violation of Civil Code § 3342.5 as well as local ordinances.
ASSISTANCE: Associations needing legal assistance can contact us. To stay current with issues affecting community associations, subscribe to the Davis-Stirling Newsletter.