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Does a Dog Owner Owe a Duty of Care to a Child Who Became Frightened and Ran Into the Street Resulting in Injury?

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The Colorado Supreme Court tackled this challenging question in N.M. v. Trujillo, (2017 CO 79). In this case, walking past respondent Alexander Trujillo’s (“Trujillo”) home on his way to the playground at Dupont Elementary School, petitioner N.M. became frightened when Trujillo’s two pit bulls rushed at the front-yard fence. Although the dogs did not get out of the yard or touch N.M., N.M., in his fright, ran across the street and was struck by a passing van, which seriously injured him. He was in the hospital for 24 days. His family sued the driver of the van and his employer and then added Trujillo to the complaint.

The amended complaint claimed that at the time of this incident, Trujillo had actual knowledge of previous incidents in which his two pit bulls had frightened others. To recover on a negligence claim, a plaintiff must establish that the defendant owed the plaintiff a legal duty of care; the defendant breached that duty; the plaintiff was injured; and the defendant’s breach caused that injury. However, NM did not show any reason there would be a special relationship between him and Trujillo. The district court ultimately granted Trujillo’s motion to dismiss on N.M.’s negligence claim. The lower court concluded that Trujillo owed N.M. no duty because Trujillo could not reasonably foresee that his dogs’ barking or lunging at his fence would cause anyone to be so frightened that he would run into the street and get hit by a car.

Trujillo’s dogs did not escape their enclosure and never touched N.M. Thus, even if the cases on which N.M. relies could, in certain circumstances, support a viable negligence claim, notwithstanding the absence of a special relationship between the parties, this is not such a case, and we perceive no reason to extend the reasoning of the cited cases to a case like the present one. For these reasons, the Court affirmed the judgment of the lower court, and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

The Metier Law Firm is committed to assisting people with personal injury claims throughout Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska, and we frequently serve as co-counsel to law firms nationwide. Tom Metier recently secured the largest personal injury verdict in Colorado.

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