Appellate Court Discusses Plaintiff’s Punitive Damages Claim in Recent Dog Bite Case

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a personal injury case discussing under which circumstances punitive damages are appropriate for a jury to consider awarding to an accident victim. While the case arose in another state court, it is illustrative to accident victims in that it shows the type of factual scenario necessary to sustain punitive damages in a Washington, D.C. dog bite case.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was walking her son’s five-pound Yorkshire terrier to the neighborhood dog park. When the plaintiff arrived at the park, she saw that the defendant was inside the fenced-in park with her two dogs, a 75-pound Rhodesian Ridgeback and a 40-pound Beagle/Lab mix.

Apprehensive to let her son’s small dog inside the park with the much larger dogs belonging to the defendant, the plaintiff asked the defendant if she would be leaving the park soon. The defendant did not respond verbally but shrugged her shoulders. A few minutes later, the defendant began to leash her dogs to exit the park.

As the defendant was exiting the park, the two large dogs got away from her and ran toward the plaintiff. The larger dogs attacked the plaintiff’s son’s smaller dog, killing the dog and injuring the plaintiff in the process. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant, seeking punitive damages.

In support of her claim, the plaintiff presented the testimony of one of the defendant’s neighbors. The neighbor explained how one time he had to intervene to keep the defendant’s dogs from attacking another neighborhood woman walking a small dog.

The defendant claimed that punitive damages were not appropriate in this case because there was no evidence that she was aware her dogs were prone to attack. In support of this argument, the defendant cited the state’s “one bite rule,” under which a dog’s owner is presumed to have knowledge of a dog’s potential dangerousness only when the dog has previously bitten.

The court, however, rejected the defendant’s narrow interpretation of the one-bite rule, and it clarified that an attempted attack is sufficient to put an owner on notice. Here, the neighbor explained that, absent his efforts, the defendant’s dogs would likely have attacked the woman and her dog. This, the court held, was sufficient to put the defendant on notice about her dogs’ propensity to attack.

The court also explained that the defendant’s behavior on the day of the accident could legally support a finding of punitive damages, if the jury decided they were appropriate. That being the case, the court permitted the plaintiff’s case to proceed toward trial on the punitive damages claim.

Have You Been Attacked by a Dog?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Washington, D.C. dog bite or other animal attack, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a personal injury lawsuit. The dedicated Washington, D.C. personal injury lawyers at the law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers have extensive experience representing victims in all types of Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. accidents. To learn more, call 410-654-3600 to schedule a free consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

Court Dismisses Premises Liability Lawsuit Against Coffee Shop, Finding Parents Bore the Responsibility to Keep Children Safe, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, March 19, 2018

Court Dismisses Premises Liability Case Due to Plaintiff’s Knowledge of Hazard That Caused His Injury, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, March 2, 2018

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