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Who is liable for a dog attack at an Airbnb rental?

In previous blog post we have discussed pet owner liability when it comes to dog bites. California's strict liability law states that dog owners are responsible for the actions of their pets unless the bite victim was trespassing on the owner's property or entering the dog owners home unlawfully. What happens, however, if the bite occurs while you are in a home that you have rented through a larger company -- like Airbnb?

Some people in San Diego may have heard about the recent dog bite incident that occurred during a person's stay at an Airbnb host's home. The man, who is from the U.S., was staying at a home in Argentina that he booked through Airbnb. Although it was not listed in the ad for the home, the owner had a pet Rottweiler. The man described the dog as nonthreatening until it bit him on the third day of his stay.

The man suffered a gruesome gash on his arm that required a two-night stay in the hospital to treat. The man asked the homeowner to supply the deposit required by the hospital, but the homeowner did not have the funds. After his treatment, he reached out to Airbnb.

He explained the situation and asked that Airbnb pay for some of his medical care. The company, however, refused, saying it could only reimburse him for his stay at the host's home. When a reporter from the New York Times contacted Airbnb, however, they suddenly became much more accommodating. In fact, they agreed to help cover his medical bills and other expenses.

Although it is likely that Airbnb was attempting to protect its reputation more than anything else when it agreed to pay for the man's medical bills, this incident brings up the issue of liability in these situations. Airbnb provides some liability coverage to hosts, but only those located in the United States. Some feel that the company is skirting its legal responsibilities, but the lines are not yet clearly drawn.

It will be interesting to see if Airbnb finds a way to better protect its guests around the world. In the meant, though, it may be wise to speak with an attorney after being attacked by a dog or other animal. A lawyer can help determine your options for pursuing compensation and guide you through the process.

Source: The New York Times, "Questions About Airbnb's Responsibility After Attack by Dog," Ron Lieber, April 10, 2015

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