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Can I sue the family care home across the street for failing to properly dispose of their trash, which resulted in the death of our dog?

Asked by user in New York.

The staff of this facility repeatedly left the doors of the dumpster wide open. This made for easy access for bears to get into the trash. In April, a bear carried 3 bags of trash into our yard. First thing in the morning, our dog, a German Shorthaired Pointer, got into the trash. He ingested vinyl gloves and some used adult diapers. He had 2 surgeries in an attempt to try and remove these items, but he died.

Answered by Enjuris Editors:

I’m so sorry that this happened to you.

To hold the family care home liable for your dog’s death, you need to prove that the family care home was negligent.

In New York, the plaintiff (you) must prove the following elements to establish negligence:

  • The defendant (the family care home) owed a duty to your dog,
  • The defendant breached the duty, and
  • The breach was the cause of your dog’s death.

Proving negligence in this case will be very challenging. In general, businesses have a legal duty to keep others on their property safe from dangerous conditions. The open dumpster might be considered a dangerous condition. What’s more, many towns have local ordinances that require businesses to take certain steps with respect to the cleanliness surrounding their premises.

However, even if the open dumpster is considered a dangerous condition, businesses aren’t liable for any injury caused by the dangerous condition. Rather, the injury must be reasonably foreseeable. In this case, a court is unlikely to find that the death of your dog was a reasonably foreseeable result of leaving a dumpster unlocked. However, this might change if there are additional facts (for example, if bears had removed trash from the dumpsters previously).

To answer your question: Yes, you can sue the family care home for your dog’s death. However, in order to win you’ll have to establish negligence, and it’s far from a sure thing. Your best bet is to consult with a premises liability attorney in your area.

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