Atkinson v. Santore
A dog owner's strict liability under the dog bite statute, C.G.S. §22-357, does not extend to damage caused by a dog's merely passive, and, thus, innocent or involuntary behavior. Emma Atkinson brought this action against Lorraine Santore, under C.G.S. §22-357 claiming that Atkinson was potentially exposed to the rabies virus from her contact with the defendant's dogs while caring for the defendant's children, after the plaintiff found the dogs in the vicinity of a rabid raccoon in the defendant's yard. She claimed that the defendant was strictly liable for such potential exposure and its consequences, including the cost of and pain associated with the resulting administration of anti-rabies injections. Both parties filed motions for summary judgment. Citing the 1928 Connecticut Supreme Court case of Grannis v. Weber, the trial court granted the defendant's motion finding that the only conduct by which the defendant's dogs might be claimed to have exposed the plaintiff to the rabies virus was entirely passive and, thus, completely innocent and involuntary rather than volitional, vicious or mischievous. The plaintiff appealed claiming that the trial court erred in granting the defendant's motion. She argued that the court's analysis of the statute's requirements was too restrictive because it inappropriately limited dog owners' strict liability to damage resulting from the active or affirmative conduct of their dogs. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. Although the language of the statute contains no express requirement that a dog's conduct be active or affirmative in order for its owner to be held strictly liable for damage resulting from it, our courts long have held that the statute applies only to a dog's volitional conduct that is either vicious or mischievous rather than innocent or involuntary. This limitation is rooted in the purpose of the statute, which is to assign full responsibility for the special dangers arising from the natural behavior of dogs to those who expose others to such special dangers by owning or keeping dogs, rather than to innocent persons who encounter such dogs and thereby suffer damage to their persons or property. The plaintiff's contention that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the plaintiff's potential exposure resulted from the dogs' affirmative conduct was rejected. A suggested inference that the dogs contacted the dead raccoon was speculative.