Austin Attorney Wins Big With Dog Bite Jury Verdict
Even a Rattlesnake Warns Its Victims
January 19th 2011, Austin, Texas. 8:00 a.m. Mrs. L opens the back door to her kitchen, and just before she leaves the house for the day, she lets 185 lbs. of dog out into her back yard–a big 80 lbs. black lab mix and an even bigger 105 lbs. border collie mix.
When a person owns animals that they know could be dangerous, they must take steps to protect the public from that danger. And when a person relies on a safety device, they must make sure the safety device is actually in use in order to protect the public from needless harm. When they ignore these steps, and as a result someone is harmed, the person is responsible for the harms and losses that are caused. Mrs. L had prior knowledge that her dogs had bitten someone before, yet that morning, Mrs. L did not check to make sure that the only gate from the back of her property to the front of her property was closed and latched. As a result, four hours later, a Fed Ex deliveryman was attacked by these two dogs and received serious injuries to his leg.
Before taking this case to trial, I had to determine several things. I had to determine whether or not the deliveryman could have protected himself from the dangers that Mrs. L let loose on her property. He pulls up to the beautifully manicured lawn, stops his truck and scans two packages. When he gets out of his truck, he does not see any dogs. He does not hear any barking. There are no dog toys, no leashes on the porch, no dog bowls. He sees no signs warning people to BEWARE OF DOGS because there are no signs warning people to BEWARE OF DOGS. Nothing. No indication whatsoever that there are dogs on the property. Even a rattlesnake warns its victims.
And before coming to trial, I had to determine if the deliveryman did something to provoke this attack, because if he had, we could not honorably come to trial.
He jogs to the door. Knocks. Lays the 2 small packages down. He hears growling behind him and turns around.
The big dog cuts him off from the walkway. The bigger dog is making an arc around his partner in crime and heads straight for the deliveryman’s calf. As the 105 lbs. dog sinks its teeth into the deliveryman’s calf, the 80 lbs. dog lunges at the deliveryman and knocks him to the lawn. The attack begins. The deliveryman tries to fight off 185 lbs. of dog, but the 105 lbs. dog is latched onto flesh and muscle, tugging him, tearing his calf, and won’t let go. The other dog jumps around and bites the man’s other leg. The fit young deliveryman army crawls to try to get free. He fears for his life. He tries to protect his neck and head. His fingernails are black with the dirt from the manicured lawn. No one comes to his rescue. Finally, the attack breaks off when the deliveryman manages to get to the border of the property where he later learns that an invisible fence called off the attack. The attack, rather, the ambush, was unprovoked.
The issue then raised was whether or not the owner of these animals had notice that her dogs were dangerous. Through our investigation, we learned that this woman had knowledge that her dogs had been aggressive in the past. She just never did anything about it. Her original landscaper, who had since parted way with the owners, would get phone calls from the lady on Fridays, asking why their lawn had not been done. The landscaper responded that if her crazy dogs were out, then his guys would not get out of the truck. So, the dog owner made sure her lawn would be done on her designated day by taking her dogs to work with her on Fridays (she and her husband own the company). But she did nothing else to protect the public from her dogs from Saturday to Thursday.
About a year later, in April 2008, the owner comes home from work. A deputy sheriff knocks on her door and informs her that her dogs bit someone earlier that day. Mrs. L does not do anything to find out what had happened – though she testifies that she asked for a report from Animal Control to get the name of the person that was bitten and no one would give her the report, so, she drops her inquiry and never calls the victim to see if there was anything that she could do to help. When someone asks for an Animal Control Report, then Animal Control provides this public information. 100% every time.
You would think that after the discussion with the landscaper and the discussion with the Sheriff, this lady would have at least put up a warning sign or take some steps to protect the next potential victim of her dogs that unquestionably were dangerous. Nope. Not a thing.
For a dog owner to have knowledge that her dogs could be dangerous and then do absolutely nothing to investigate the reports and take no action to protect the public from this danger is a betrayal. Even a rattlesnake warns it victims.
Mrs. L’s insurance carrier, USAA, offered my deliveryman (who incidentally is a member of the U.S. Military to be deployed in 2013) a settlement of $10,000. Not a penny more. While preparing for this trial, I saw a commercial for USAA stating that they respect and honor the courage and dedication and sacrifice of their servicemen insureds. USAA based their $10,000 settlement offer on the fact that my client had under $3000 of medical bills and that he only missed 11 days of work and was back running 3-4 miles a day about a month after the attack. After drilling him for hours in a deposition, they ignored the true damages in this case – the effect that this trauma had on a solid upstanding member of our community.
Last Friday my jury returned a verdict of $146,200.00 for the harms and losses that this young man suffered. There were no punitive damages found. These were all compensatory damages. $0 disfigurement, $3,000 past medical bills, $1,000 past impairment, $1,200 lost wages, $1,000 future lost wages, $5,000 pain, $45,000 past mental anguish, $50,000 future mental anguish.
The most important part of this long journey for me and for my client was when a juror came up to us at the end of the trial and said to my client, “I just want to shake your hand.”