Wood v. Williams – Powers and Bowley Successful on Appeal

Brian Powers headshot Gordon Bowley headshotThe case was originally posted after Brian and Gordon obtained a summary judgment in this Butte County case.  The plaintiffs alleged that their deceased husband and father died as the result of fear of the defendant’s dog, which had escaped through our elderly defendant’s legs as he was letting his cleaning lady into his house. The defendant then drove through his neighborhood trying to catch the dog. The dog ran up on Mr. and Mrs. Wood’s front yard where she allegedly barked and growled aggressively at Mr. Wood and the Woods’ two Chihuahuas. Mr. Wood was able to get his dogs into his house and then was throwing rocks at the defendant’s dog when he fell over and died. In opposition to the motion for summary judgment, the plaintiffs provided a declaration from a cardiologist stating that in his opinion the confrontation with the dog caused Mr. Wood to suffer a heart attack.

The Appellate Court agreed with the trial court and Brian and Gordon’s argument that the defendant did not owe a duty to the decedent under the factors announced in Rowland v. Christian. The primary factor was the lack of foreseeability, although the court noted that the other Rowland factors weighed in favor of the defendant. In its non-published opinion, the Appellate Court wrote, “Under these circumstances we cannot find that it was reasonably foreseeable that defendant’s conduct in allowing his nonvicious dog to get out of the house, negligent or not, would reasonably lead to a man’s death brought about, apparently, by fright or stress. Speaking particularly, when defendant’s dog escaped from the house it could not have been reasonably anticipated that Wood would be walking his two dogs as defendant’s dog roamed the neighborhood and that Wood would happen to have a serious heart condition that would be aggravated to the point that he suffered a fatal heart attack brought on by defendant’s barking dog and Wood’s effort to scare it away. This result depends on a sequence of events that, though tragic, were coincidental and not reasonably foreseeable.”

The unpublished decision can be viewed here.

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