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A friend agreed to pet-sit my dog, Taishi, while husband and I were away for 3 weeks. To compensate her for doing this, we told her she could live in our apartment and eat any food we had without question and use our TV and our internet as much as she liked without question. She agreed to this arrangement. I never told her not to take the dog on public transit somewhere but it never occurred to me that she would. She decided to take my dog to an off-leash park. While out, she claimed, "After we got off the escalator, I looked down and saw Taishi's paw was bleeding. I don't know how it got that way. I took him to the vet and it cost $XXX dollars. I paid the bill but you need to pay me back." (It was some amount $200 or less. I forget how much exactly.)

She informed us of this while we were away and expected me to either find a way to send her the money from China, where we were, or give it to her the week we got back. I tried not to say too much about it because we were away and she still was caring for the dog and I didn't want trouble.

When we got back, I refused to pay for the vet bill because I wasn't the one who injured the dog in the first place. I told her that her desire to walk my dog was correct and admirable but there was no requirement to take him to the off leash park nor did I ever instruct her to do so, so his injury was entirely on her.

She said it was cheap of me to risk losing a friendship over a mere $XXX and if I really valued the friendship, I'd pay her back. I stuck by my attitude that she put my dog in an injurious situation, since this didn't happen in my own apartment, and thus I didn't owe her repayment. She then told me she borrowed the money from her mother and I need to pay her back so she could pay back her mother.

I told her that if she was willing to give me her mother's address, I would write a check for the full amount, payable only to her mother, and include a letter as to why her daughter had borrowed the money in the first place, as I didn't trust this person to have told her mother the truth to the purpose of the borrowed money. She told me in a panicked tone not to do that, to just give her the money and she'd be sure to pay her mother back. I stood firm and said the only way her mother was getting this money was with a direct check in her mother's name only and a letter explaining the reason for this check. She got huffy mad and ended the friendship, making sure to tell people I was a selfish and mean person in the process.

I don't regret the loss of the friendship. I explained what happened to other friends and they told me I wasn't a very nice person and that since I own the dog, it's my responsibility to pay for any vet bills he incurs when friends are looking after him. I then asked that if someone was babysitting a human child (under the pretended idea I had one, for illustrative purposes) of mine and the child got injured in their care, would I or the caretaker be responsible? They said that of course the caretaker is responsible but a dog is not a human child and I was comparing apples to oranges so it's not the same.

What is correct? If a pet sitter takes your pet somewhere unnecessary and it gets injured, should they be required to foot the vet bill or is it the owner's responsibility for that bill?

If you say the owner should be responsible, explain how that's fair when the pet sitter is already being fairly compensated for pet sitting and the pet only got injured because the pet sitter took it someplace that was entirely unnecessary?

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    Whether or not it's fair is not really a legal question. The law is what the law is, and judges are not usually in a position to ignore what the relevant laws say just because they think it's not "fair". – zibadawa timmy Feb 18 '18 at 11:07
  • Doesn't answer the question or I'd know whether or not this was legal already and would've acted accordingly whether I liked it or not. Do you have an answer? – Hideto Feb 18 '18 at 11:10
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    If I had an answer I would have posted it as an answer. This area is for comments. I'm only commenting. In this case to point out that your concerns about fairness are not necessarily relevant or on topic, and is a matter of opinion (evidently your friend thinks it imminently fair, while you do not). Who bears responsibility for this bill and injury is a valid and solid question, though. – zibadawa timmy Feb 18 '18 at 11:15
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    You might want to reread your own last paragraph, as it is clearly not a legal inquiry, but a demand for someone to offer you a convincing moral argument. But we don't need to carry on about this. Incidentally I'm fairly certain that the sitter is responsible and any (small claims) court in the US would award you damages equal to the vet bill and any others incurred as a result in short order. I just lack sufficient understanding of the legal system to be sure of that. A google search and some old Judge Judy memories are a poor basis for legal opinion. – zibadawa timmy Feb 18 '18 at 11:29
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    If she walked the dog in the local park or around the block, and the dog stepped on a piece of a broken bottle, would we be having this conversation? – Damila Mar 20 at 1:39
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You are responsible

It is unlikely that the arrangement you had with the sitter amounts to a contract. Even though there was consideration on both sides, at first blush it seems unlikely that both of you intended to create legal relations. See What is a contract and what is required for them to be valid? Notwithstanding, if there is a contract it is silent on who is responsible to for injury to the pet so it would fall back on the law of negligence anyway.

For the sitter to be responsible, she must have been negligent. She wasn't. See Is there liability for pure accidents?

Looking at the elements:

  1. a duty to the plaintiff, such a aduty probably exists.
  2. breached that duty by failing to conform to the required standard of conduct (generally the standard of a reasonable person), she didn't (see below).
  3. the plaintiff must have suffered actual harm, no question that you have. the negligent conduct was, in law, the cause of that harm, and
  4. that harm was foreseeable, probably it wasn't (see below).

Here are the facts:

  • She took the dog on public transport - not unreasonable, many people do. The fact that you wouldn't is irrelevant since you did not communicate this prohibition to the sitter.
  • She took it to an off-leash park - not unreasonable, that's what they are for.
  • She rode an escalator - it is unclear if she carried the dog or expected the dog to ride the escalator itself. The first is clearly reasonable, the second may or may not be depending on the size of the dog etc.
  • She noted the injury and had it treated - eminentely reasonable.

So, in general, she has acted as a reasonable person would.

It is also far from clear to me how any of the decisions made would result in foreseeable harm to the dog. Remembering that the standard is would a reasonable person foresee that there was a risk of harm barring extraordinary circumstances.

By the way, the legal reasoning is exactly the same if you had entrusted her with your child or your car.

  • Thank you. That helps a lot. From now on, I’ll get help to draw up a contract and make anyone sign stating that if they take my dog more than 1 block away from my home, they will be liable for any injuries incurred and will attach a GPS device to his collar so they can’t pretend they didn’t leave if they in fact did. I think this sort of thing is awful but it’s the law, apparently, so I’ll make a contract to try to get around the situation. Thanks again. – Hideto Feb 18 '18 at 23:13
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    @Hideto If you want people to take additional risk that the law provides for, expect to pay for it. – Dale M Feb 18 '18 at 23:24
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    @Hideto pet boarding can be expensive. If it was me, I would consider the $200 vet bill and some food a pretty inexpensive option and would be thankful that this person took good care of my pet. – Pete B. Feb 20 '18 at 13:04
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    @Hideto people are only negligent if they fail to take reasonable care - your expectation that the remove all risk is unreasonable not to say impossible. By the way, what is reasonable for a business running a kennel is much higher than what is reasonable for a friend who is doing a favor – Dale M Feb 21 '18 at 19:57
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    @Hideto No, I can’t - you say this she says that, I wasn’t there I have no way of knowing what the facts were without all the evidence and neither does a court. So far I only have your side of the story and no matter how honest you are it is inherently a biased account. The law doesn’t care what you think, it only cares about evidence. However, that’s beside the point - the law requires reasonable care. 2 things need to be determined - what actions were taken (the facts)? Were they reasonable (the law)? – Dale M Feb 21 '18 at 20:16

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