In Olier v. Bailey, the Mississippi Supreme Court considered a goose attack and premises liability case. The case arose when plaintiff Janet Olier and defendant Donna Bailey got to know each other through a gardening website. The plaintiff visited the defendant to look at the defendant's plants. There was a "Beware-Attack Geese" sign in the defendant's yard, and she also warned the plaintiff there were geese in the yard. There were buckets around the porch so the geese could drink water and not walk onto the porch.
The plaintiff went past the buckets to look at a banana plant while the defendant stayed on the porch. However, as the plaintiff went over the buckets, a goose squawked at her and she stepped back on to the porch. She told the defendant she couldn't go into the yard because of the geese, but the defendant told her the geese wouldn't bite if she accompanied her. The defendant also gave her a pole to fend off birds. They left the porch and entered the yard, and the geese approached the plaintiff.
The plaintiff got scared, thought the pole was useless, and threw it on the ground. The goose nipped her in the crotch, and she turned to run. She tripped over a bucket and fell, breaking her arm.
The plaintiff sued the defendant on two theories of liability: premises liability and the dangerous propensity of an animal rule. She sought $200,000 in damages, the jurisdictional limit. The defendant moved for summary judgment and argued that the plaintiff was a licensee at her home and that the defendant hadn't breached her duty of care to the plaintiff. She also argued that the goose had not shown dangerous propensities previously. The plaintiff argued that the defendant had given her a bamboo pole, which showed the defendant knew about the aggressive, dangerous propensities of the geese.
The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendant. The Circuit Court affirmed. The plaintiff appealed. She argued she was an invitee and that the affirmative negligence doctrine that applies to business premises should be expanded to residences, and that domestic fowl should fall under the dangerous propensity rule.
The court explained that, in order to decide whether liability attached to a landowner, the court would have to determine the status of the visitor (trespasser, licensee, or invitee), the duty that the landowner owed to the visitor, and whether the landowner breached his or her duty of care to the visitor.
The court explained that a licensee enters property for his or her own convenience, pleasure, or benefit at the implied permission or license by the owner. In contrast, an invitee is someone who goes upon the premises of another person in response to an express or implied invitation for mutual advantage. A higher duty of care is owed to invitees. The landowner must keep the premises reasonably safe and warn of hidden dangers. Landowners only owe a duty to licensees to keep from willfully or wantonly injuring the licensee.
The appellate court explained that the plaintiff came to the defendant's home entirely for her own benefit and was a licensee. The defendant had not wantonly or willfully injured her. The court found that the geese weren't a hidden danger and that the defendant had tried to help the plaintiff protect herself.
The court explained that the defendant's duty of care as an animal owner was different than her duty as a landowner. An animal owner can have liability for an animal attack in Mississippi if there's prior evidence of dangerous propensity that the owner is aware of, and the owner should reasonably have foreseen the likelihood of an animal attack. The issue is whether an animal is kept with knowledge of its vicious disposition.
The defendant argued that there was no evidence the specific goose had shown a dangerous propensity before, and she couldn't be held liable for its actions. However, one of the defendant's geese had previously chased somebody and been locked up for it. The plaintiff argued that it would be unfair to require her to identify the specific goose and show its dangerousness, and that the real issue was the foreseeability of the dangerousness of the entire gaggle of geese.
The appellate court found that, since being a goose includes biting and chasing people, there doesn't have to be a prior incident to put the owner on notice of that propensity. The court found that a trial would resolve the relative fault of the plaintiff and the defendant. The court concluded there was a question of fact about whether the defendant was on notice of her geese's dangerous propensity and whether the defendant breached her standard of care to the plaintiff as an animal owner.
If you or a loved one has been hurt because of an animal attack, you should consult an experienced Mississippi personal injury attorney to recover damages. Contact the skilled team at Coxwell & Associates, PLLC for a free consultation today.
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