Gibson v. Rezvanpour: Real Estate Professionals Not Liable for Dog Attack

A Georgia appellate court has considered whether real estate professionals and brokerages could be liable for an attack by the sellers' dog on potential buyers.

James and Susie Foulks ("Sellers") listed their home for sale with Rebecca Martin ("Salesperson"), who was affiliated with Cherokee Connections, Inc. d/b/a Re/Max Town & Country ("Brokerage). The Sellers owned two dogs whom had always been friendly to the Salesperson. The Sellers told the Salesperson that the dogs would be fenced in the backyard. In the multiple listing service entry ("Entry") for the property, the Salesperson stated that the Sellers had pets, that there was a lockbox on the property, and that it was necessary to call for an appointment.

Sue and Davis Gibson contacted Mercedeh Rezvanpour ("Rezvanpour ") about their interest in purchasing a home. Rezvanpour printed the short form of the Entry which did not contain information about the Sellers' pets. Rezvanpour was not acting as a buyer's representative but rather as a subagent of the Sellers.

Rezvanpour called the Salesperson to make sure the property was still available, and then left the Sellers a message that she was planning to show the property. During Rezvanpour and Sue Gibson's visit to the property, Sue Gibson opened a door to the backyard and one of the dogs bit her. The Gibsons filed a lawsuit against the Sellers, Rezvanpour, the Salesperson, the Brokerage, and also sued the owners of the Brokerage personally. The trial court dismissed all of the claims except those against the Sellers, and the Gibsons appealed this ruling.

The Court of Appeals of Georgia affirmed the trial court ruling in favor of the real estate professionals. The Gibsons based their lawsuit on the following allegations: breach of statutory duties; premises liability; and general negligence. The alleged statutory duties that the real estate professionals breached were the general statutory duties a real estate licensee owes to his/her client. The court found that none of these statutory duties established any special duties related to pets, and so the court dismissed these allegations.

Next, the Gibsons argued that the real estate professionals involved in this lawsuit are liable for failing to keep the premises safe in accordance with Georgia's general premises liability statute. In order for this statute to apply, the Gibsons would need to show that the real estate professionals were "occupiers" of the property. The statute imposes a duty on occupiers to protect visitors on the property from known dangerous conditions on the property. The court stated that even if it was assumed the real estate professionals were occupiers, they still wouldn't be liable for the dog attack because the real estate professionals had no reason to know the dog was dangerous. The Salesperson had not witnessed vicious behavior from the dogs, and the Sellers had testified they would have told the Salesperson that the dogs were not vicious if they had been asked. Since none of the real estate professionals had any reason to know that the dogs were vicious, they could not be liable for violating the premises liability statute. Thus, the court affirmed the dismissal of these allegations.

Finally, the court considered the remaining allegations. The court affirmed the dismissal of the negligence allegations against the real estate professionals for the same reasons set forth above, as they had no duty to protect the Gibsons from the dogs. The real estate professionals had no reason to know the dogs were dangerous and there is not a presumption that dogs are dangerous. The court also affirmed the dismissal of the allegations that the Brokerage had a contractual or other legal duty to assure the safety of clients. The court stated that was no evidence that any amount of training would have changed the result here. Thus, the trial court's dismissal of all allegations against the real estate professionals was affirmed.

Gibson v. Rezvanpour, 601 S.E.2d 848 (Ga. Ct. App. 2005).