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Insurance company isn’t liable for dog-bite injuries

Wausau — A woman who tripped over a sleeping dog at her daughter’s home and injured her knee has lost a legal battle with an insurance company over the state’s so-called “dog bite law,” which makes owners liable for damages their dogs cause.An invitation to dinner precipitated the legal skirmish settled Tuesday in the 3rd District Court of Appeals.Sleeping dogs came out the clear winner.“We believe that to impose liability under the dog owner statute for injuries arising solely from a sleeping dog would effectively result in a pure penalty for dog ownership,” the three-judge panel wrote.According to court records, JoAnn and Walter Alwin of Athens attended a dinner party at the home of their daughter, Pamela Fullerton, in Hamburg in June 1997.Sometime during dinner, Fullerton’s dog, Tess, fell asleep behind Mrs. Alwin’s chair. Later, Mrs. Alwin quickly excused herself from the table, turned to leave and tripped and fell over Tess.Mrs. Alwin seriously injured her knee and filed a lawsuit against her daughter’s insurance company. The lawsuit claimed Fullerton’s insurance company, State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., was liable for the injuries under the “dog bite law.”Medical bills for the injuries totaled about $9,000, said Doug Bauman, a State Farm attorney.Marathon County Circuit Judge Raymond Thums dismissed the lawsuit, ruling the law didn’t apply because Tess did not actively engage in any conduct and was only sleeping.The appeals court ruled the law applied but “public policy considerations” forbid State Farm from being held liable for Mrs. Alwin’s injury.“If recovery is allowed where a dog is doing nothing more than sleeping on a floor, it is difficult to imagine a set of circumstances in which liability would not arise,” the judges said. “Allowing recovery in this case would enter a field that has no sensible or just stopping point.”

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