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Noncustodial Landlord Owes No Duty to Driver, Injured When a Horse Escaped From the Rented Property

In Deveneau v. Wielt and Toomey, 2016 VT 21 (Mar. 4, 2016), the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of a negligence claim against defendant Brian Toomey on the grounds that, as a landlord, he owed no duty to a third party who was injured when he struck a horse while driving past the property owned by Toomey.

Issue: The issue is what duty, if any, runs from Toomey, as a noncustodial landowner, to plaintiff, who was injured when his vehicle struck a horse that had escaped from the property.

Holding: The Court held that, because Toomey had no connection to the ownership, management, or control of the injurious horse or the fence containing it, he had no duty to prevent that horse from escaping and harming a passing motorist. There was no unreasonable risk in the ordinary course of pasturing with a fence that horses will escape and pose a danger to passing motorists.

Dissent: Robinson, J., filed a 21-page dissent, on the grounds that the majority misconstrued the facts and misapplied the law.

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