Brian Powers and Gordon Bowley recently obtained a summary judgment for the defense in an interesting case in which the decedent was allegedly frightened to death by defendant’s dog. The 87 year-old defendant owned a smooth-coated Shar-Pei that accidentally escaped through the front door while the defendant was letting his cleaning lady into his house. Defendant got into his car and followed his dog for more than one-half hour trying to coax the animal into the car. The dog finally ran up onto the front yard of the decedent who was there with his two Chihuahuas. The plaintiffs were the decedent’s wife and their children and they alleged that the defendant’s dog acted aggressively and appeared ready to attack the decedent or his dogs. The wife witnessed the incident and testified in her deposition that she thought defendant’s dog was a Pit Bull. The defendant’s dog did not bite or even touch the decedent or his pets. The decedent got his pets into his house and then began throwing rocks at defendant’s Shar-Pie. While doing so he fell to the ground and died. The plaintiffs asserted their husband and father died of a heart attack due to fright.
In the motion for summary judgment, Bowley successfully argued that the defendant did not breach a duty to use due care because the death was not reasonably foreseeable based on the facts of the case. The Court agreed and in its ruling wrote, “The tragic death…though perhaps indirectly caused by the dog, was not the kind of harm which could reasonably have been foreseen by the defendant…” The plaintiffs’ attorney has appealed the ruling.