The latest news reports are that Ving Rhames’ dogs are not responsible for the death of their caretaker, although more than one dog did bite the man, more than once. The autopsy is scheduled for Monday morning; the four dogs that were found loose on the property (three Mastiffs and one Bulldog) have been taken, and are being held, by the authorities.
What happens now?
1. Ving Rhames may be facing a lawsuit filed by the caretaker’s Estate for wrongful death – in fact, that’s pretty much a slam dunk.
This would be true in most states, where the owner would be liable once it was proven that the death was due to the dogs attacking him (either because the victim died of dog bites, or from fear of the dogs’ attacking him which resulted in a heart attack). In most states, owners would have a defense: if they had no reason to know that the dogs had a “dangerous propensity” to harm folk, then they might not be legally liable for the harm.
However, California is one of the states that have enacted a “strict liability” law regarding dog bites: California Civil Code Section 3342 holds the owner legally responsible for ANY dog bites on his property when the victim had a legal right to be there.
What about your dogs? What if they bite someone? You need to check your local laws to see what your responsiblities are: some states follow California’s strict liability pattern; others take the “one free bite” approach.
2. What will happen to Ving Rhames’ dogs? Usually, dogs who have bitten a human are quaranteened for a short time, then returned to their owners. However, if they have killed someone, the local authorities may seek a court order to have them put down in the public interest for being too dangerous. Here’s a potential second legal fight for Mr. Rhames.