Sleeping Dogs and Horses

Colorado is still cowboy country, as illustrated by the kind of cases that show up in its courts. 

Yesterday, the Colorado Court of Appeals held, in an appeal from a Weld County case, that it is not conclusively negligent to let sleeping dogs lie on your porch, even in the face of a leash law.  The case involved a pair of horses walking by the defendant dog owner’s home on a public street who were harassed when the dogs awoke without the owner’s notice, which caused a horse to buck and injure its rider.Instead, negligence in such situations must be evaluated on a case by case basis by a jury.  In this case, the jury at trial favored the dog owners.

The Court of Appeals also determined that when the dogs awoke, barked at passing horses, and caused one of those horses to buck its rider and fall on the rider, causing the rider (but not the horse) serious bodily injury, that this did not constitute “worrying cattle” under Colorado law, a law which covers only danger to the animals, not to the rider.

The result is typical of American tort law which requires proof of negligence by the person sued to prove liability in most cases.  In contrast, in almost all countries outside former British colonies, which use a “civil law” system, animal owners are generally strictly liable for any harm caused by the conduct of their animals (or minor children) under legal principles dating back to the French revolution and even earlier to the Roman Empire.

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Andrew Oh-Willeke

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