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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Court: Woman may not sue even though dog causes accident

CONCORD – A woman has lost a bid in federal court to sue a man under the state’s so-called “dog bite statute” even though Brady the dog never bit her.

Lisa Lorrain, a Maine resident, crashed her motorcycle on Pine River Road in Wakefield on June 13, 2009, after Brady, a chocolate brown Labrador retriever, darted into the road, according to a judge’s decision.

Lorrain clipped Brady’s hindquarters and crashed into a telephone pole, suffering “extensive and permanent injuries,” according to the decision issued Monday by U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Laplante.

Lorrain sued John Branscombe, the co-owner of Colony Used Auto Parts in Rochester. She claimed that Branscombe should be held responsible under New Hampshire’s dog bite statute because he allowed his adult son, Geoff Branscombe, to bring the dog to the shop, where the younger Branscombe also worked, according to the decision.

The dog bite statute holds dog owners responsible for injuries their pet cause. Lorrain sued Branscombe for more than $75,000, according to the decision.

Laplante granted Branscombe’s motion for summary judgment – which essentially quashes the suit – and agreed the dog bite statute didn’t apply to Brady because his actions weren’t “vicious or mischievous” and Branscombe wasn’t the dog’s owner.

Geoff Branscombe lived in a residence owned by the auto parts store next door and would often bring Brady to the store during the workday, according to the decision.

Laplante ruled that the elder Branscombe allowing that arrangement didn’t qualify as him “keeping” the dog along with his son. Laplante likened the relationship to that of a landlord who allows a tenant to keep pets.

Lorrain argued that he was the dog’s keeper, and therefor liable for her injuries under state law, according to the decision.

Brady also survived the accident, according to the decision.

Joseph G. Cote can be reached at 594-6415 or jcote@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Cote on Twitter (@Telegraph_JoeC).