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Am I liable for a dog bite that occurred on my property with this very unique situation?

San Francisco, CA |

I had a contract to have property transferred to me from my step-mom through a quitclaim. The title was put in my name before the contract was fulfilled so I could get a refi loan. Until I paid my step-mom, completing the contract, I had no rights to the property and the property would go back to her if I could not pay her within a specified time. She had a doberman that bit someone passing by (still unclear how, but probably with its head above the fence) when she was out of town and her brother was staying there, while title was in my name. Months later, I fulfilled the contract and moved in. The lady who was bit has been trying to sue my stepmom's brother but none of them are anywhere to be found. Now she wants to sue me for being the "owner". Am I liable?

To make things even more complicated, the original quitclaim deed was considered invalid by the mortgage company when I was originally trying to get the loan at the time of the incident. I was not the "a fee" owner, according to them and the property remained in my step-mom's and deceased father's trust. Some things needed to be taken care of at the county recorder's office, including submitting my father's death certificate to take the property out of the trust and make me the "a fee title owner". This was done about a month after the dog bite. I would help this lady find my step-mom and her bother because they were bad people. But, basically once they were paid for the property they skipped town, literally, to Mexico I think. But now basically she is telling me to find my step-mom and her brother or she's going to go after me.

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Attorney answers 6


There is a dog bite statute that makes the owner of the dog, not the owner of the property, liable for dog bites, so you are safe there. Your liability as a property owner is limited to cases of negligence, and based on the facts you present I don't see what you did that was negligent. That said, hopefully you have insurance coverage on the property, so you can advise the insurance company of the situation and work with them from here on.

David Lee Fiol

David Lee Fiol


You additional info makes it even better for you. You have no duty to find your step mom for this woman, but if you do learn where your step mom is it might be a good idea to tell her (or her attorney).




Not likely


Owner of property is liable if they can prove you knew the dog had dangerous propensities before this bite. Also, if you were negligent. For ex., if landlord knows tenant has dog, and also knows the gate to the yard has been broken for months and doesn't stay closed, and dog gets out and bites someone.


Not on these facts as posted


It seems that your only legal exposure in this dog bite would be as "owner of the property". The issue of liability of a property owner for a doberman living on the property biting a passerby can get complicated. However, based on the additional facts you have stated, it appears that you were not in fact a legal owner of the property at the time of the incident. If you weren't an owner of either the dog or the property where the dog was kept, you should not be liable on these facts.

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