Michaela and David Martin as Next Best Friends of Gracie Martin
John W. Christman and Joanna L. Christman
This Opinion is subject to motion for reargument or formal revision before publication. See V.R.A.P. 40
On Appeal from Superior Court, Washington Unit, Civil Division. Michael S. Kupersmith, J.
Christopher McVeigh of McVeigh ◆ Skiff, Burlington, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.
Jeffrey S. Marlin of Primmer Piper Eggleston & Cramer PC, Montpelier, for Defendants-Appellees.
Present: Reiber, C.J., Dooley, Skoglund, Robinson and Crawford, JJ.
[¶1] The single issue raised by this appeal is whether we should change the common-law rule requiring proof of a dog owner's negligence as the sole basis for liability for personal injuries inflicted by the dog. In the face of longstanding precedent, both in Vermont and in the United States in general, we decline to change the substantive law by judicial decision. The decision of the trial court is affirmed.
[¶2] On July 3, 2009, plaintiffs Michaela and David Martin and their three-year-old daughter Gracie spent the day at a campsite that the family rents on a seasonal basis at a campground in Island Pond, Vermont. Defendants John and Joanna Christman rented a campsite near the Martins. As long-term campers, the families were friendly with one another.
[¶3] Michaela took Gracie to a playground adjacent to the Christmans' site. She watched Gracie from a nearby picnic table. The Christmans were camping with two of their boxer dogs, one of which was a two-year old male named Diesel. They had a table of their own which was sheltered with a gazebo. Joanna Christman tied Diesel to a pole supporting the gazebo. Gracie Martin asked John Christman if she could pet Diesel, and he said that she could.
[¶4] Without warning Diesel attacked Gracie, knocking her to the ground and biting her face. John Christman forced his dog to let go of the child. The Martins took Gracie to North Country Hospital where she received surgery to repair her wounds.
[¶5] The Martins brought suit against the Christmans, their insurer, and the campground on several theories, including strict liability and negligence. The trial court granted defendants' motion to dismiss the strict liability claim on the ground that existing Vermont precedent required proof of negligence to recover against a dog owner for damages caused by his or her dog. It also dismissed a " direct action" claim against the Christmans' insurer. The parties stipulated to ...