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Pet Sitting Unleashes Potential Liability

By Betty Wang, JD | Last updated on

Pet sitting may sound like the "purr-fect" way to combine your love of animals with your need to make some scratch cash. But on the other paw, you may want to think about potential liability issues that can come back to bite you.

For example, just because you're not the pet's owner doesn't necessarily mean that you aren't responsible if something goes wrong. And if you are the owner, pet sitting can still unleash some unwanted legal consequences.

Here are a few scenarios you'll want to keep in mind:

When Animals Attack

If a pet bites an innocent bystander, both the pet sitter and pet's owner could potentially be held liable. Generally, animal bites are traced back to the owner of the animal under a strict liability theory. There are a few exceptions, however (for example, if the animal was provoked). In addition, if a pet sitter was in control of the animal at the time of the attack, then she may find herself on the receiving end of a lawsuit.

When Animals Escape

You generally want to avoid what happened to CJ the chimp, but sometimes it's out of your hands. A key question to ask when an animal gets loose: Is it is considered to be wild or domestic? That's because owners of wild animals can be held strictly liable for their animals' acts, regardless of any safety precautions they may have taken; domestic animal owners may not be held to such a standard.

When Animals Die

If the pet dies while a sitter is on the job, the sitter could obviously face some liability. This depends, of course, on the sitter's role in the pet's death. If Fido or Fluffy died of natural causes, then you're sittin' pretty. But if you were somehow negligently involved in an action that led to its demise, you could be in trouble.

When Pet Sitters Are Liable

Some pet sitters get their assignments through a pet-sitting agency, which could make them either an employee or independent contractor of some sort. This means that while vicarious liability could potentially apply, most actions that a sitter performs outside the scope of pet sitting -- such as committing a crime like theft, for example -- generally fall entirely on the sitter, and not on the agency. (Unless an owner can prove negligent training or hiring practices, like failure to conduct background checks.) For pet owners, this is an important consideration in figuring out which party, or parties, may be held liable for a pet sitter's acts.

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