The Anatomy of a Successful Dog Bite Trial

50062_dog_biteMy client was 37 years old, recently separated, and a manual laborer who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Initially, my client was working on his wife’s car in the street when he decided to take a break and chat with his neighbor.  A short time later, the neighbor’s wife opened the front door and my client could see and hear that she was yelling at her two dogs to keep back from exiting the front door.  She was successful the first time.  Subsequently, she opened the door to walk down and give her husband a sack lunch.  However, this time, the two dogs rushed out the front door.

The dogs headed straight for my client who was in the street.  As he saw two rushing dogs, he attempted to jump up on the trunk of another neighbor’s car.  On his third attempt, the white (female) dog nipped at his pant leg which caused my client to slip and fall to the asphalt below squarely on his right elbow.  As he was down on the ground, he noticed that the second (male) dog was about to bite his face so he threw up his left forearm in defense which was promptly bitten by the black dog.  It took the owners over fifteen (15) minutes to get both dogs back into the house.  According to my client, the dogs were growling at the owners as well during this process.

My client drove himself to the hospital where his injuries were cleaned, a tetanus shot was provided and an x-ray was taken of the right elbow.  Fortunately, there were no fractures or stitches and the dogs were later found to be vaccinated against rabies.  Yet, the pain continued and worsened in his right elbow and left triceps area.  My client went back to the same hospital about a month and ten days later as fluid and swelling in his right elbow was causing limited range of motion and pain.  At the second visit, the hospital performed another x-ray, provided another prescription and discharged my client. The prescriptions were never filled due to the cost and over the counter NSAIDs were purchased.

Six days after the second hospital visit, my client went to an orthopedic clinic for examination.  At the first visit, the provider gave him an elbow sleeve and noted the puncture wound on the left arm and bruising and healing lacerations on the right elbow.  At this point in time, the provider was not sure if the continued swelling in the elbow was due to infection. A referral for an MRI of the right elbow was provided and the MRI reflected fluid and swelling in the elbow as well as a potential degenerative lesion.

At the second visit, the provider drained the fluid from my client’s elbow.  At the third and last visit, the provider indicated that my client should return if symptoms got worse.  The symptoms in the elbow and forearm continued to become aggravated through my client’s work as a cable installed but my client did not return to the doctor.  My client’s total bills were roughly $7,500.00.

The insurer for the dog owners was Auto Owners Insurance.  Auto Owners never offered a penny for the dog bite/attack relative to the initial demand, mediation request and prior to trial.  The evidence reflected that the white dog was a red nosed pit bull and that the black dog was a mixed breed which possibly included pit bull. The alleged defenses for the owners were that my client was negligent in running from the dogs and that my client contributed to the attack by tripping over the white dog.  The defense had plenty of holes and didn’t reflect the truth or the reality of the “fight or flight” mechanism that is the reaction of human beings in emergency situations.

The trial was held last week in the State Court of Gwinnett County before Judge Robert Mock, Jr. over a two day period.  I put up no damage witnesses as my client’s family was in Detroit and he was now separated from his wife.  I also did not take the depositions of the defendants as I knew their planned defense and would dismantle it in cross-examination.  Defense counsel only called the defendant husband to the stand.  His testimony was in direct contradiction to my client.  Yet, I was able to show the defendant’s poor demeanor, questionable integrity and creative false testimony on the fly.

The applicable law that covered this attack was a Gwinnett county ordinance (10-29) that mandated that dogs’ owners must keep their dogs under restraint and control at all times.  Some folks refer to this type of law as a leash law.  At the time of the attack, neither dog was leashed and under control.  A violation of this type of law is considered negligence per se in that the dogs were definitively loose and free to roam.  As a direct result of this violation, the dogs were free to attack my client.

In my first closing, I reminded the 12 person jury that due to the violation of the lease law, it did not matter if the dogs were not considered to be vicious or did not have a dangerous past, including no prior dog bites.  The jury understood the law and saw right through defendant’s testimony.  Further, they were able to see my client’s two scars on the elbow and forearm and hear my client’s testimony that the limited range of motion still affected his work performance.  Defense closing did not even touch upon defendant’s testimony on the stand. I don’t blame them. In my opinion, the defendant’s testimony was inconsistent, biased, self-serving and dishonest.

In my second closing, I focused a little more on the FBI agent who I determined would be the foreperson of the jury – I was right. I asked the jury for roughly $37,000.00 plus additional attorney’s fees to fully compensate my client.  After two hours of deliberation, the jury reached a verdict.  After the jury came back into the courtroom, the FBI agent was identified as the foreperson and he confirmed that the jury unanimously found in favor of my client for $40,000.00.

The Gwinnett county jury included three males and nine females.  The jury was conscientious and took notes.  A majority of the jury owned dogs.  All members of the jury had no issue awarding money damages, the medium by which parties are compensated, in a dog bite case if the evidence warranted such an award.  Lastly, all members of the jury understood the plain wording of the applicable law and how defendants’ had violated that law which led to injuries.

The Law Offices of Kevin C. Ford is currently accepting dog bite cases throughout Georgia. If you or a loved one has been injured as the result of a dog bite attack, then please contact an experienced personal injury attorney for a free consultation.