There’s a good chance you’ve heard the phrase, “Dogs are man’s best friend,” at least once in your life. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that more and more households have dogs as pets. If you go for a hike, or a run, or a walk around your neighborhood, it’s likely that you will see at least one person walking a dog. In most situations, everything is fine and the dog presents no issue to the approaching stranger. However, what happens when something goes awry and a dog attacks someone for no reason? As you may already know, the outcome can be catastrophic.
In a recent case in Georgia, an 8-year-old girl was playing in front of her home when two pit bull/mixed breed dogs, who were owned by a neighbor, attacked her. The dogs dragged the girl about 100 feet, mauling her arms, legs, torso, and face. A driver passing by saw the girl and called 911. The police arrived, but the dogs were still attacking the victim. An officer shot and killed one of the dogs. The other dog escaped but was caught later and then euthanized.
The victim sustained severe wounds to her arms, and she required vein transplants from both legs. Surgeons were unable to save her left, nondominant arm, and it was amputated at the elbow. Afterwards, the girl is now wearing a prosthetic arm. She also has permanent scarring to her face, upper torso, and legs, and will require future surgeries, including scar-revision procedures, as she grows up.
Additionally as a result of the attack, she suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, which caused her to have nightmares and she was unable to enjoy the sports as she did prior to this. Her past medical expenses totaled about $600,000, and her future medical expenses were estimated at $1.3 million. This estimate included the cost of future revision surgeries and therapy.
The dog owner was sentenced to 16 months in prison, and the girl’s parents sued the dog owner under Georgia’s dog bite statute. During the case, the plaintiffs played the 911 tape for the jury to hear. In this tape, the girl can be heard screaming for help for nine minutes. The dog owner defaulted and did not appear at the civil court’s trial. The jury awarded the victim $72.69 million, including about $36.69 million in compensatory damages and $36 million in punitive damages. After this, the trial court later reduced the punitive damages award to $250,000, under the Georgia state limit on punitive damages.
Unfortunately, it is unclear what amount, if any, the plaintiffs will ultimately collect from the defendant dog owner. It is also unknown whether there was a source of insurance coverage available to the dog owner at the time of the attack. If there was no source of insurance coverage available to the dog owner, it is highly unlikely that the plaintiffs will be able to collect much, if any, of the amount that the jury awarded to the plaintiffs.
The case serves to illustrate the catastrophic injuries that can occur when a dog attacks someone, especially a child. I have handled many dog bite cases over the years, and the resulting injuries are almost always extremely serious.
If you are a dog owner, you should make sure that you have insurance coverage available to you in the event that your dog ever attacks someone. Not having insurance coverage could put your personal assets and money at risk.
If you are a victim of a dog bite attack, you should seek the advice of an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible to discuss your options. Here at Stark & Stark, we handle each case with personal care and attention to detail. If you have any questions about the liability and damages issues that arise when a dog attacks someone, give me a call or send me an email. I am happy to help.