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Boswell v. Steele

Court of Appeals of Idaho

September 6, 2017

STEPHEN BOSWELL and KARENA BOSWELL, husband and wife, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
AMBER DAWN STEELE and the Estate of MARY STEELE, Defendants-Respondents.

         2017 Opinion No. 43

         Appeal from the District Court of the Sixth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Bannock County. Hon. William H. Woodland, District Judge.

         Judgment in negligence action, vacated and case remanded.

          Merrill & Merrill Chtd.; Kent A. Higgins, Pocatello, for appellants. Kent A. Higgins argued.

          Cooper & Larsen, Chtd.; Reed W. Larsen; Pocatello, for respondents. Reed W. Larsen argued.

          GUTIERREZ, Judge

         Stephen and Karena Boswell appeal from the district court's judgment entered in favor of Amber Dawn Steele and the Estate of Mary Steele.[1] The Boswells argue the district court erred in reducing their claims to negligence causes of action by not instructing the jury on common law and statutory strict liability, by instructing the jury on negligence, and by providing the negligence special verdict form. For the reasons explained below, we vacate the district court's judgment and remand for further proceedings.

         I.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         After Amber's dog bit Stephen, the Boswells filed a complaint alleging various causes of action. Both parties moved for summary judgment. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Steeles. The Boswells filed a motion to reconsider, which was denied. The district court entered a judgment in favor of the Steeles, dismissing the Boswells' claims.

         The Boswells appealed from the district court's summary judgment. This Court vacated and remanded after determining the Boswells pled a cause of action for liability for domestic animals, simple negligence, premises liability, negligence per se, and injury from a dangerous animal as defined by the Pocatello Municipal Code; and the Boswells sufficiently supported these claims with evidence to survive summary judgment. Boswell v. Steele, 158 Idaho 554, 348 P.3d 497 (Ct. App. 2015).

         On remand, the Boswells filed motions for partial summary judgment, arguing they were entitled to summary judgment on their strict liability and Pocatello Municipal Code claims, and that the Steeles' defenses of comparative negligence should be stricken. The district court denied the motions, reasoning the Boswells' claims were sound and therefore subject to the defense of comparative negligence. Before trial, the Boswells voluntarily dismissed their negligence claims. The district court instructed the jury on negligence and gave the jury a negligence special verdict form. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the Steeles, finding that they were not negligent. The Boswells appeal from the district court's judgment entered against them.

         II.

         ANALYSIS

         The Boswells argue the district court erred in reducing the Boswells' claims to negligence by not instructing the jury on common law and statutory strict liability, by instructing the jury on negligence, and by providing the special verdict form about negligence. Whether the jury has been properly instructed is a question of law over which we exercise free review. Needs v. Hebener, 118 Idaho 438, 441, 797 P.2d 146, 149 (Ct. App. 1990). When reviewing jury instructions, we ask whether the instructions as a whole, and not individually, fairly and accurately reflect applicable law. Powell v. Sellers, 130 Idaho 122, 126, 937 P.2d 434, 438 (Ct. App. 1997). A requested jury instruction need not be given if it is either an erroneous statement of the law, adequately covered by other instructions, or not supported by the facts of the case. Craig Johnson Const., L.L.C. v. Floyd Town Architects, P.A., 142 Idaho 797, 800, 134 P.3d 648, 651 (2006).

         A. Common Law and Statutory Strict Liability

         The core and dispositive issue on appeal is whether Idaho, at the time Stephen was bitten, had adopted strict liability in dog-bite cases. As we explained in Boswell, the Idaho Supreme Court "adopted a rule that an owner of a domesticated animal will be liable for injuries it causes if the owner had prior knowledge, or should have known, of the animal's dangerous propensity. It is the elements of the cause of action that are significant, not a label of strict liability or negligence." Boswell, 158 Idaho at ...


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