The Case of the Dangerous Dachshund

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Plaintiff: Plaintiff enters the Penny Pinchers grocery store in West Point, Mississippi, on August 16, 2006. She says hello. She walks down the aisle. Suddenly, the bark of a savage dog rings out! Plaintiff flees, terrified, with the clicking of the pursuing animal's claws echoing in her ears. When Plaintiff turns to see how close her pursuer is, she collides with a freezer at the back of the store. Frantically, she tries to claw her way up onto the freezer in a desperate attempt to survive!

Defendant: The dog is a four-pound Dachshund puppy.

Plaintiff: Plaintiff explains that she is terrified of all dogs, and was not initially aware of the size of her pursuer. She laughs. She continues to shop. She is able to pick up five pounds of catfish and four pounds of sugar before the terrible pain in her hip begins. She sobs. If only the store had not created a dangerous condition by failing to properly restrain the dog and/or warn customers of its presence. How different things would be now.

Defendant: Um, hold on a minute. Turns out Plaintiff has had hip problems for decades, beginning long before this or any Dachshund allegedly chased her into a freezer. Also, the dog is a four-pound Dachshund puppy, ergo, not a "dangerous condition."

The Jury: Justice is elusive in the case before us. Each party has made a number of points that we partly understand. In order that we may depart, let us assign some fault to each, say, 30 percent to the plaintiff and 70 percent to the defendant. Thusly, we award $130,000 to the woman who fled in terror from a Dachshund.

The Trial Judge: I agree that the evidence supports such a result.

The Mississippi Court of Appeals: It is now time to get serious. A business owner has a duty to warn of dangerous conditions that are not apparent. "[I]mplicit in that duty is that a dangerous condition must exist." Dogs are not dangerous per se, and no evidence showed that this one had exhibited dangerous propensities during the four months she had been alive. "We must also consider that Sophie was a four-pound puppy at the time of the incident," and that invitees must themselves use "that degree of care and prudence which a person of ordinary intelligence" would use under the circumstances. Plaintiff's decision to run headlong into a large object while fleeing from a four-pound dog must be viewed in this light.

The Result: Reversed.