Giacalone v. Housing Authority of the Town of Wallingford
"Whether a dangerous condition is created by rats, snow, rotting wood or vicious dogs, these differing facts present no fundamental ground of distinction[; w]hat defines a landlord's duty is the obligation to take reasonable measures to ensure that the space over which it exercises dominion is safe from dangers or a landlord may incur liability for failing to do so." Patricia Giacalone filed a complaint against her landlord, the Housing Authority of the town of Wallingford alleging injuries and damages from a dog bite owned by a fellow tenant. Giacalone alleged that the defendant was aware that the attacking dog was dangerous and aggressive and the plaintiff's injuries resulted from the defendant's negligence in the face of that knowledge. The trial court granted the defendant's motion to strike the complaint concluding that only the owner or keeper of a dog may be held liable for injuries the animal causes. The Appellate Court reversed the judgment reasoning that the Supreme Court's 2008 decision in Auster v. Norwalk United Methodist Church recognized a broader theory of common law liability. The defendant appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Court's judgment. The majority concluded that a landlord's common-law duty to alleviate known dangers includes dangers posed by vicious dogs. The majority saw nothing novel or unclear in its decision in Auster, which merely stated that the failure of one of the plaintiff's theories of liability, which was based on the strict liability imposed on the owner or keeper of a dog under C.G.S. §22-357, did not preclude the plaintiff from potentially prevailing on a common-law liability theory. The Court "merely nodded to the uncontroversial fact that ordinaryindeed, hoaryprinciples of common-law liability could be brought to bear on the question of whether…. the landlord, could be held liable in negligence for failing to protect against the dog attack in that case." Those same principles applied here. The traditional common-law duty of landlords to keep common areas in a reasonably safe condition was found to apply to dangers posed by known dangerous dogs. Justice Zarella, with whom Justice McLachlan joined, concurred in the judgment and ultimate conclusion but disagreed with the reasoning finding the comments in Auster to be nonbinding dicta and the issue to be a novel one.