If they were just checking on or feeding the dog, you probably can’t sue for strict liability, but you may be able to sue for negligence. In Neztsosie v. Meyer (Utah Supreme Court, 1994), Mr. Meyer checked on his daughter’s dog “Spud” while her family was out of town. The dog got loose and bit a young boy.
Under Utah Code Section 18-1-1, a dog’s “keeper” is strictly (automatically) liable if the dog bites someone, meaning that the person bitten does not have to prove carelessness in order to receive compensation. The boy’s parents argued that Mr. Meyer was Spud’s keeper at the time their son was bitten. The Utah Supreme Court disagreed. The court said that being the “keeper” of a dog “means more than merely checking to see if a dog has sufficient food and water for a limited time.” There is no universal definition of keeper, but it means “the assumption of custody, management, and control…. the exercise of a substantial number of the incidents of ownership by one who, though not the owner, assumes to act in his stead.”
“One becomes the keeper of a dog only when he, either with or without the owner’s permission, undertakes to manage, control, or care for it as dog owners in general are accustomed to do,” the court said.
Mr. Meyer’s limited involvement with Spud was not enough to make him strictly liable for the boy’s injury, so the lawsuit was dismissed.
Note: A strict liability claim under Section 18-1-1 is only one way to sue someone for a dog bite. The boy’s parents attempted to add a negligence claim against Mr. Meyer, but the court said their motion was filed too late.