This case is about the definition in Wisconsin of the word harboring. According to Merrian-Webster harboring means to give shelter to (someone): to hide and protect (someone). If you harbor an adult child who owns a dog, then why aren't you harboring the dog? I say you do because without the parent paying the freight for the child to live in a house the parent owns, the dog would not be on the property. But that isn't the case in Wisconsin. 

This case begs the question, if a parent provides an adult child who owns animals, with a place to live and the child is reported to pay nothing in rent, how is the parent who provides the place to live not responsible for what happens at the property? The parent is the owner, paying the real estate taxes, the costs of maintenance and but-for their generosity the child would not be there. This is one of those legislative situations that supports those making money not being responsible for the risks the investment creates. It is as if we are back in England being ruled by a King, where the King could do no wrong. 

Augsburger v. Homestead Mut. Ins. Co.

Court: Wisconsin Supreme Court Citation: 2014 WI 133

Opinion Date: December 26, 2014

Areas of Law: Animal / Dog Law

George Kontos owned property that his daughter lived in with her family and multiple dogs. Plaintiff was injured on Kontos’ property when she was bitten multiple times by the dogs. Plaintiff filed a complaint against Kontos and his insurance company, alleging that Kontos was liable for her injuries under Wis. Stat. 174.02(1), which imposes strict liability on dog owners for injuries caused by their dogs. The circuit court determined that Kontos was a statutory owner because he gave shelter to his daughter and her dogs. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) mere ownership of the property on which a dog resides is not sufficient to establish that an individual is an owner of a dog under section 174.02; and (2) Kontos was not an “owner” under the statute where he did not legally own or keep the dogs and because he was not a “harborer” as evidenced by the totality of the circumstances.

I would have not ruled with the Wisconsin Supreme Court on this one. Without the owner providing the means to live in the house, the daughter and son-in-law would not have been able to keep the dog. How that is not “harboring” I do not know. This law is encouraging irresponsible behavior and allows owners of vicious dogs to not be financially responsible. 

Steve Lombardi
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Iowa personal injury, workers' compensation, motorcycle, quadriplegic, paraplegic, brain injury, death
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