Dog Bite Claim Where a Dog Bit a Woman at an Adoption Center*



Case Summary:

This is a review of a dog bite claim. In this case a woman was injured while at a pet adoption center by one of the prospective dogs as she was petting it. The injuries she sustained required her to be hospitalized for two weeks and to miss an additional three weeks of work while she convalesced at home.

After the attack, the woman filed a dog bite claim and made multiple attempts to enter into a settlement agreement with the adoption center's insurance company. All attempts were futile, and the woman retained a personal injury attorney and filed a lawsuit against the adoption center.

Statement of Facts...

On January 3rd, 2011, Vonda Carber was visiting Petters Home adoption center looking for a new pet. While there, she came upon "Marty," a brown and grey peppered German Shepherd. Carber began to pet Marty. Gaining what she thought was a positive response, Carber knelt down in front of the dog and continued to pet its head.

Suddenly, and without apparent provocation, the dog lashed out at Carber. Carber instantly jumped to her feet. As she did the dog lurched forward and bit her in her right thigh. Carber said she felt instant and excruciating pain. Almost immediately blood from Carber's thigh area began to appear and move down to her knee where it began to pool.

Upon hearing Carber cry out, several employees rushed to her aid. One ran to grab a towel and quickly wrapped it around Carber's thigh as a tourniquet. Another employee ran to find her supervisor who quickly called 911.

The paramedics arrived, and, after treating the wound, sped Carber to the emergency room at Brookhaven Hospital. Carber was admitted and treated. She was administered intravenous antibiotics and a derivative of morphine.

Carber remained at Brookhaven Hospital for 2 weeks. While there she received continued and substantial antibiotics in an effort to stave off infection. A plastic surgeon was brought in to graft skin from her lower back onto her thigh. Her pain medication was slowly titrated, until after 2 weeks the dosage became manageable.

Carber was released to recover at home for 3 weeks. As a paralegal, Carber earned $750 weekly. She wasn't paid for the time she was in the hospital or recovering at home.

After filing a dog bite claim and failing to come to an agreement with the adoption center, Carber retained counsel and filed a lawsuit.

The Lawsuit...

In her dog bite claim, Vonda Carber alleged Petters' Home had a standard of reasonable care to protect the public from danger.

Carber alleged Petters breached that duty of care when it allowed one of the dogs under their care to viciously assault her. Carber contended Petters breach of that standard of reasonable care constituted negligence.

Carber's dog bite claim sought compensation for the following:

  • Medical bills, also called "Hard Costs"

  • Out-of-pocket expenses (which included prescription and over the counter medicine, and other items required for her treatment)

  • Lost wages

  • Pain and suffering

Carber's medical bills totaled $43,815. Her out of pocket expenses, including prescription medications, over the counter medications, skin creams and bandages totaled $1,832. Carber's lost wages amounted to $3,750. She alleged her pain and suffering was worth $300,000.

In response to the dog bite claim, Petters produced documentary evidence which showed the dog Marty had been dropped off at the center 34 days earlier.

Petters offered testimony from three of its employees, two of whom had come to Carber's aid when she was injured. All three testified during the last 34 days they had groomed, walked or cleaned up after Marty, and during that time he never showed a propensity for anger or violence.

Over the hearsay objections of Carber's attorneys, Petters' employees testified Marty's reputation was as a "sweet and passive dog" with no history of biting or jumping on employees or members of the public. The employees went on to testify that Marty "never showed any aggressiveness."

Petters stated in their response to the original dog bite claim that they did not breach their "standard of reasonable care" to Carber. As a result, Petters' argued, they were not negligent.

Absent a showing of negligence, Petters argued they could not be held responsible for the injuries suffered by Carber. Although Petters empathized with Carber's injuries, they contended their failure to breach the standard of reasonable care should exempt them from liability.

Outcome...

After hearing the evidence presented by the attorneys for the plaintiff and the defendant, the Court ruled on Carber's dog bite claim as follows:

"While we find the evidence of the dog's domesticity and passivity to be credible, we also find it was the responsibility of the defendant to maintain control over the dog while it was under their care.

Until such time as the ownership of the dog transfers to the person or persons who have agreed to adopt the dog, the defendant must maintain a standard of reasonable care. That standard must include the protection of the public from the aggressive acts of the animals under its control.

The defendant's testimony that the dog had never before attacked or bitten any member of the public is not sufficient to relieve it of its responsibility.

It is wholly unlikely that even a few people, even those whose profession it is to train animals, can with even a remote degree of certainty predict the actions of an animal under their presumed control.

Because of this, we must continue to impose upon those dog owners and caretakers a very high standard of care. Such care must remain one of paramount importance. Dog owners and caretakers must be ever-vigilant of their animals' behavior.

In this case we find the defendant's testimony regarding his supposition of the dog's history of non-aggression to be insufficient to overcome the defendant's duty of care toward the plaintiff Carber.

The Court cannot permit the defendant the luxury of waiting until one of the animals under its purported control bites a member of the public. The 'one dog bite allowed' premise is wholly unacceptable.

Having any animal confined in an area must be regarded as a potential and foreseeable harm. That foreseeable harm is not one which can be said to be assumed by the public, and therein remain with the public until an attack occurs. And only then to have the responsibility for the animal's aggressive and injurious action transferred to the animal's caretaker.

For the Court to allow such behavior would be wholly inappropriate. Allowing such behavior would be to set a precedent for irresponsibility and excuse for those charged with the responsibility of care and management of animals.

The safety of the public is paramount and the defendant cannot be permitted to be relieved of his responsibility based solely on his claim of lack of prior notice or complaint of the dog's aggressive or assaultive behavior.

Therefore this Court rules in favor of the plaintiff Vonda Carber, and against the defendant, Petters Home. The Court awards the plaintiff the amount of $49,397 in actual damages and $50,000 for pain and suffering."

Important Points...

  • It is well-understood in those instances where there is a potential of foreseeable harm to a member of the public that there does not exist an objective manner to measure or reveal that foreseeable harm. As a result each instance of serious bodily injury and related harm may regrettably have to be determined through the process of litigation.

  • Although there is an objective manner for a Court to measure actual damages, a determination of a fair amount of compensation for "pain and suffering" is wholly discretionary and left for the Jury or the Court to ultimately decide.


*This case example is for educational purposes only. It is based on actual events although names have been changed to protect those involved. Any resemblance to real persons or entities is purely coincidental.

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MEDICAL ERROR
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