Case Example: Dog Bite Lawsuit for Severe Facial Injuries

When negotiations fail, our dog bite victim files a lawsuit seeking compensation for facial wounds, including her extreme pain and suffering.

In this case, the injury victim was severely bitten by another patron’s large dog in a cafe where she was dining.

After several failed attempts to reach an agreement with both the owner of the dog and the cafe owner, the woman filed a lawsuit.

This case study 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.

We’ll cover how our victim was injured, her attempts to settle the claim out of Court, and the final resolution of her injury lawsuit.

Our study concludes with a list of important points about dog bite injury claims.

Dog Attack in a Café

On a pleasant Sunday morning at about 10:00 a.m., Nikki Brooks was waiting for her check after finishing her meal at the Waterman Cafe. While she was waiting, another patron, Bob Miller, passed by with his dog. The cafe had a generally laid-back atmosphere, and patrons often brought their dogs in with them.

In this case, the patron had brought in a full-grown male Weimaraner, which he had securely leashed.

As the dog passed, Brooks leaned over to reach her purse, which was hanging on the arm of her chair. As she did, the dog reared its head back and bit Brooks in her face. She suffered severe lacerations to the front of her face and her left ear.

Paramedics arrived quickly. They stabilized Brooks and rushed her to the local hospital.

Facial Injuries and Damages

Brooks required nearly thirty stitches to her face and ear, and she remained in the hospital for two days. Once released, she needed another three weeks of recovery time at home.

Under the care of a plastic surgeon, Brooks was told she would need scar revision surgery in about a year.

Brooks’ current and future medical bills totaled $45,500 with out-of-pocket expenses for medication and bandages of $500. Her lost wages amounted to $3,500. Her out-of-pocket expenses for medications and bandages cost $500.

Brooks made every reasonable attempt to negotiate an out of court settlement with the dog’s owner and the cafe.

Bob Miller was worried about paying for Brooks’ medical bills. Believing he was about to be sued, he refused to respond to calls or letters.

The cafe’s insurance company stalled and argued until negotiations failed.

Brooks hired a personal injury attorney, who filed a lawsuit on her behalf against the dog’s owner, Bob Miller, and the café owner, Nicholas Foster.

The Dog Bite Lawsuit

Shortly after being served with Brooks’ lawsuit, Miller filed bankruptcy. Since Miller had few assets, he was dropped from Nikki Brooks’ lawsuit.

In her lawsuit, Nikki Brooks contended that the cafe’s owner, Nicholas Foster, failed to protect her from a vicious dog attack. Foster breached the “standard of reasonable care,” which should have been available to all its patrons.

She contended this standard of care was breached when Foster permitted dogs to enter the cafe, and this breach constituted negligence.

Brooks’ lawsuit admitted that she was aware patrons brought their dogs to Foster’s cafe, but it stated,  dogs were usually leashed on the railing outside of the eating area.

Brooks sought the following damages: :

Her lawsuit asked for compensation for hard costs of $54,000 and $250,000 for pain and suffering.

Foster’s defense attorney swiftly filed an answer, agreeing that Foster did not have a notice posted anywhere in the café, which prohibited dogs from coming past the railing and into the eating area.

However, Foster’s attorney argued that Foster had been doing business at that same location for 12 years. During that time, it was common knowledge to its patrons’ dogs were to be leashed outside the railing, but that sometimes patrons did bring their dogs into the eating area.

Foster entered credit card receipts into evidence showing Brooks had eaten at the cafe at least 16 times during the preceding 12 month period.

The defense attorney contended Brooks must have known that dogs often came inside the railing into the eating area. Yet, Foster could not find any complaints Brooks made about dogs being anywhere on the cafe’s premises.

Foster’s attorney further contended if Brooks felt any apprehension or fear about dogs being near her or other patrons, she could have either complained or decided not to eat at the cafe. He argued that Brooks assumed the risk of eating at the café.

“Assumption of risk” is a legal concept that often comes up in dog bite cases and other personal injury lawsuits.

If a person “assumes the risk,” then they have decided on their own to engage in an action they know is risky or dangerous. If they are later injured or in some way harmed during the activity, they cannot hold anyone else liable for their fate but themselves.

In this case, Foster claimed that Brooks knew the risks of being around the patrons’ dogs, and she chose to continue doing so anyway.

Foster’s attorney tried to further bolster their defense by stating in the 12 years the café had been doing business at that location, and no one filed a report complaining of a dog attack.

He argued that there was no “foreseeable harm without previous complaints,” so Foster had no reason to take the step to prohibit dogs from entering into the cafe’s eating area.

Outcome of the Lawsuit

After listening to all of the evidence presented by the plaintiff Brooks and from the defendant Foster, and after listening to the final arguments of their attorneys, the Court found in favor of the plaintiff Brooks and against the defendant Foster.

In rendering the verdict, the Judge stated in part:

“Although the plaintiff may have known there were dogs which frequently went past the cafe’s front railing and into the eating area, and as such knew there existed some potential for danger, the plaintiff’s decision to continue eating at the cafe cannot be viewed as an assumption of the risk.

It would mean the owners of dangerous animals could not be held liable for the injuries their animals might inflict on the public.

We cannot accept a dog owner’s plea of not knowing his dog’s potential for aggressive behavior. There is no ‘one bite law’ before an owner is deemed to have notice of the assaultive tendencies of their dog.

As such, we cannot accept the café owner’s argument in the instant case that he could not foresee potentially aggressive behavior by dogs allowed on the premises.”

The Court awards the plaintiff the amount of $49,500 for her actual damages and $100,000 for pain and suffering.

Important Points About Dog Bite Cases

  • Seek immediate medical attention for dog attack injuries. Less severe bites can still put you at risk for rabies of infection.
  • In most jurisdictions, doctors and hospitals are required to report dog bites to protect public safety. In any case, be sure to notify the local Animal Control department.
  • Preserve evidence of the attack, including bloody clothing, witness statements, and photographs of the attack scene, the dog, and your injuries. Evidence is critical to your injury claim.
  • Become familiar with the dog bite laws in your state, county, and municipality to help build your injury claim.
  • Severe injuries, and dog attacks on young children, are best handled by an experienced attorney to maximize compensation for the victim.
Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>