We have previously discussed that if harm or injury is caused by a dog within the property of its owner or keeper, for the aggrieved party or plaintiff to claim damages, it would be necessary to show or prove that the defendant owner or keeper knows or must have known of the offending dog’s tendency to cause harm or injury and that the defendant took no or insufficient precautions to prevent the same.
This tells us foremost that the sole fact of fencing or confining the errant canine is not a defense when it causes actual harm or injury to third persons, or their property, within the property boundaries of its owner or keeper. Of course, this scenario contemplates that the third person is lawfully within the enclosure, that is, he or she did not trespass on the dog owner’s or dog keeper’s property as this is certainly sufficient provocation for a guard dog to take justifiable action against the unknown trespasser.
Nevertheless, it is vital for dog owners to be informed on what constitutes an “enclosure” for purposes of determining whether strict liability should be applied – the query being, is the errant canine “at large” or “outside” of its enclosure when it caused the harm or injury? If yes, then the owner or keeper is more or less automatically liable for damages to the aggrieved party.
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In the case of Wilbur vs. Gross (1936), the Supreme Court of Rhode Island had occasion to exhaustively deliberate and arrive at the conclusion that, in determining liability for dog bites, the central factor in the definition of an “enclosure” is “that there be something to give a man reasonable notice that he is entering upon occupied premises, where there may be a dog.”
Subsequently, the Supreme Court of Rhode Island defined an enclosure under the provision § 4–13–16 as “a fence, physical obstruction or any other condition that gives reasonable notice to third parties that the area is private.”