The first line of the Mississippi Supreme Court’s opinion in Janet Olier v. Donna Bailey says so much in so few words: “Janet Olier was attacked and chased by a domestic goose in Donna Bailey’s yard.” As it turns out, Olier broke her arm and sustained various other injuries during the goose chase. Olier filed suit in the County Court of Jackson County, Mississippi asserting theories of premises liability and the “dangerous propensity rule.” The trial court granted summary judgment on the basis that “Olier was a licensee on Bailey’s property and that Bailey did not breach her duty of care toward Olier” and that “there was no evidence that the particular goose that bit Olier ever had exhibited dangerous propensities prior to the incident.” Following the Jackson County Circuit Court’s affirmation of the County Court’s ruling, Olier appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court.
The factual section from the Mississippi Supreme Court’s opinion in this case warrants a block quote:
Olier wanted to see Bailey’s blooming banana plant in the yard, and she ventured beyond the buckets while Bailey remained on the front porch. As Olier stepped over the buckets, a goose squawked at her. Olier said the goose was large and that its neck reached out as if it meant to bite her chest. She stepped back onto the porch, within the safe confines of the bucket-fence, and told Bailey she could not go out into the yard because of the geese. Bailey assured Olier that the geese would not bite if Bailey was with her and offered Olier a bamboo pole with which to fend off the birds. When the two women entered the yard, Bailey attempted to lead the geese away from Olier. However, the geese noticed Olier and approached her, squawking and hissing. Frightened by the geese, and thinking that the bamboo pole was useless, Olier threw it to the ground. At this point, a goose reached out and nipped her in the “crotch area.” Olier turned to flee, tripped over one of the buckets lining the patio, and fell, breaking her arm.
The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the trial court on the premises liability theory but disagreed on the dangerous-propensity rule portion. In Mississippi, the dangerous-propensity rule dictates that an animal owner may be exposed to liability for an attack by his or her animal when: 1) there is proof that the the animal has exhibited some dangerous propensity or disposition that the owner was aware of prior to the attack and 2) there is proof that the owner reasonably should have foreseen that the animal was likely to attack someone. Here, in the “aggressive bird” case of first-impression, the Court found that “Bailey arguably understood that all of her geese were potentially aggressive and acted accordingly” and held that summary judgment on that issue was inappropriate since “a jury could find that was happened to Olier was foreseeable.”
We will be interested to see what happens in this case on remand. For some reason, the part that really stood out to this author was Olier’s assumption that the bamboo pole was useless and threw it down without attempting to fend off the charging goose. A bamboo pole does seems like a good tool for fending off a goose, but then again, this author has minimal experience with such things.
(Hat Tip: Mississippi Litigation Review).