Articles Posted in Dog Attacks

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In a recent opinion, a state appellate court determined that the defendant city may be held liable for the wrongful death of a man who was killed after being attacked by several privately owned dogs. The case required the court to discuss the public duty doctrine and apply it to the facts presented. Ultimately, the court determined that the city was not entitled to immunity because a special relationship arose between the plaintiff and the city, giving rise to an obligation to the plaintiff and her husband.

Dog at SunsetThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was concerned about several neighborhood dogs that she perceived as dangerous. She called 911 on at least one occasion, and she was transferred to the city’s dog warden. The plaintiff expressed her concerns, and the dog warden told the plaintiff that “the county would take care of it.”

On another occasion, the dog warden went to the dogs’ owner’s home and was approached by one of the dogs as she pulled into the driveway. The dog jumped onto the car, preventing the dog warden from getting out of the vehicle. The dog warden later issued the owner a citation for failing to keep the dog restrained.

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Our Pembroke Park dangerous dog attorneys wrote last week about a dog attack on a Broward County couple. Fresh in the wake of that story, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel published a piece Dec. 20 about the dangerous dog law in Broward County. The law is among the toughest in Florida, because it requires dogs to be put to death after one attack on a human or another animal, with limited appeals allowed for the dogs’ owners. According to the Broward County article, the law is being reconsidered in part because of publicity surrounding the release of two dogs who attacked while they were on leashes, who have been released after the owners settled lawsuits with the county. The law also became a political issue in recent elections. In response, the Sun-Sentinel investigated the circumstances behind the majority of dog attacks in the county.

The newspaper concluded that Brandie and Gigi, the two dogs who were released, were not typical of the 62 dogs accused of being dangerous since the law passed in 2008. Both of them were on leashes when they attacked and killed smaller dogs. More typical was a third dog on the “death row,” Mercedes, who attacked and killed a neighbor’s sleeping cat after a gardener let her out of the yard. Most of the dogs had attacked other pets, the newspaper said, but they were usually loose rather than leashed, and often working in groups. In 17 of the cases, the victims were human beings. In one of those, a dog leaped a fence in Deerfield Beach to attack a 12-year-old boy, who was hospitalized for six days. Another case involved a dog attacking a blind man walking his own dog. That man told the newspaper he threw his body over his dog’s to protect it. And a 10-year-old girl was attacked while playing at a friend’s home, where a dog tore a piece of muscle out of her arm.

As a Miramar dog bite lawyer, I hope Broward County authorities take incidents like these into consideration when they think about amending the law. Some changes may be just, but it’s absolutely essential to continue protecting the public from dangerous dogs. When dogs attack human beings, the victims are disproportionately likely to be children, who are smaller, closer to the ground, louder and less likely to understand canine behavior. Dogs can outright kill smaller pets and children, and do serious damage to older kids and adults. In addition to literally ripping victims’ flesh off, dog attacks can damage organs, break bones and cause serious secondary infections. And as the newspaper’s investigation shows, many of the attacks come when the dogs are running loose against local leash laws. Without an incentive to keep potentially dangerous pets locked up, owners may find it all too easy to negligently let their dogs run around unsupervised.

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An article about an attack by a pit bull caught my interest as a Fort Lauderdale dog bite attorney. According to a Dec. 12 article from the Miami Herald, Angela Owens and her husband, Stephen Robinson, were attacked by a dog they were caring for temporarily as a favor to a friend. The dog, Debo, bit Owens in the arm, then locked onto Robinson’s arm and wouldn’t let go. This caused Broward sheriff’s deputies to shoot and kill the dog when they arrived. The attack led to severe puncture wounds for both husband and wife, requiring medical treatment and likely causing Owens to miss a few days of work as a school bus driver. Both of them are expected to ultimately be fine.

The owner of the dog had reportedly already been considering putting it down. The dog, Debo, had been caged in the couple’s West Park back yard for a week without anything unusual happening. But when Robinson opened the cage to give the dog some water early Sunday, Debo rushed out and attacked Owens, 47. When she screamed, she said, her brother called 911 for help. Robinson got between her and the dog, but the dog transferred its attention to Robinson and locked onto his arm. When the police arrived, they said Owens was standing in the street with severe puncture wounds in her arm, and the dog was still locked onto Robinson’s arm. They said he begged them to shoot the dog, which they did. Robinson declined treatment, but Owens was treated and released from a hospital.

As a Lake Worth dog bite lawyer, I can tell you that locking on and refusing to let go is not at all unusual in attacks by dangerous dogs. We treat dogs as pets, but they are also natural predators that may not let go when their attack or survival instincts are aroused. In addition, some breeds, including pit bulls, simply refuse to let go when attacking. Any dog can attack, but attacks by larger or “working” breeds tend to be more serious simply because a larger dog is able to do more physical damage and reach higher on a human being’s body. In the most extreme cases, dogs have been able to kill human beings, especially children and the elderly, by inflicting severe flesh wounds, blood loss and sometimes organ damage. Most attacks on healthy adults end with minor injuries like the ones suffered by Robinson and Owens, but particularly with children, dog attacks can inflict severe physical injuries, including broken bones and infections, as well as long-term emotional trauma.

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Broward County animal control officials euthanized two pit bulls who attacked a woman and her smaller dog, CBS4 reported June 3. Kailen Gonzalez was attacked in Fort Lauderdale while she and her brother were walking three dogs. One of the dogs died in the attack; Gonzalez and another dog were injured. In response, authorities in Broward County impounded the pit bulls, declared them dangerous and put them to sleep. They also fined the pit bulls’ owner, Katarzyna Zalewski, saying she didn’t have rabies vaccinations or pet licenses for the dogs.

Gonzalez was attacked May 20 in the Fort Lauderdale neighborhood of Victoria Park. CBS reports that the two pit bulls, Bobby and Shelbi, ran out of a neighbor’s backyard and attacked the humans and their smaller dogs. Zalewski disputed that account in a South Florida Sun-Sentinel report, saying the dogs were on her property and had been provoked. In the end, a silky terrier named Bella, who Gonzalez was dog-sitting, was dead; Gonzalez’s dog Milo was injured; and Gonzalez herself was bitten while trying to protect the dogs. Her brother and a third dog were not hurt. The Sun-Sentinel said Gonzalez suffered bites to her face that required 25 stitches and are expected to leave permanent scars.

The dogs were euthanized under a Broward County ordinance that allows authorities to put a dangerous dog to sleep after just one fatal mauling of a domestic animal. (The dogs’ owners have a right to appeal, but Zalewski chose not to in this case.) This is stricter than the previous law, which required two fatal attacks, and is being challenged in at least five lawsuits. Meanwhile, neighboring Palm Beach County is considering a similar law that would label a dog dangerous after just one attack. Those dogs would not be automatically put to sleep, but they would be banned from public places, sterilized, required to wear a muzzle and impounded for any violations by owners. Two fatal attacks on a domestic animal would trigger euthanization.

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A relatively new Broward County ordinance intended to prevent serious dog attacks has attracted media attention recently. The “dangerous dog” law took effect in May, but is only now controversial after becoming the subject of a lawsuit. The law says that any dog, regardless of its past brushes with the law, may be impounded if it kills or seriously harms a human or another domestic animal without provocation and off its owner’s property . Once the dog is impounded, the owner must be given written notice, and the county may euthanize the dog 10 business days after notice is served. Dog owners may request a hearing for a fee of $500 per dog.

Some dog owners whose dogs were taken away under the law sued the county, hoping to have the law overturned. However, the Miami Herald reports that they dropped the lawsuit Dec. 5 in exchange for having their dogs freed. A day before the settlement, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel ran a more in-depth article on the same law, outlining some of recent serious dog attacks in South Florida, including one that sent a 14-year-old to a trauma center for five days and another requiring more than $100,000 worth of medical care for a Hollywood man. Other dog attacks described in the articles killed or seriously injured smaller animals.

I sympathize with concerns about the new law, but as a Florida dog bite lawyer, I also know how important it is to prevent serious dog attacks. A large dog may be a pet, but it’s also a predator with teeth and claws capable of killing an adult human. In fact, statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that dog attacks kill an average of 17 people per year in the United States, the majority of them children. When there’s no death, the results of a dog attack can include major physical trauma like nerve damage, skin loss (with lifelong scarring) and broken bones, as well as possible infection. In order to be safe around humans and other animals, these dogs must have their most violent instincts trained away or controlled by the humans responsible for them.

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A Space Coast man lost a leg and partial use of both arms after an attack by one or more of his cousin’s three pit bulls. According to Florida Today, Roger Lindee was working on a car outside the home of his cousin, Anthony Phillips, just before the attack. Lindee claims he knocked on the door; Phillips says he burst in unannounced. It was then that Lindee was attacked by Kilo, the biggest of Phillips’ three pit bull terriers. He claims two other pit bulls were also involved, a claim his cousin disputes. Either way, Lindee was mauled for several minutes until neighbors with a shovel and a pitchfork managed to remove the dogs. His right leg was amputated and he suffered broken fingers, a broken ankle and bite wounds that limit the use of his arms. Kilo was shot at the scene by law enforcement.

Many people don’t realize it, but Florida law allows victims like Lindee to hold dog owners legally responsible for their dogs’ vicious attacks. In fact, Florida is a “strict liability” state, which means owners are held liable for the first attack by their dogs, regardless of whether there was past evidence showing the dog is violent. Owners can escape liability by posting signs warning of a “BAD DOG,” but they are also liable for general negligence, just like all Floridians. As the article implies, we also have local laws that can restrict or put down dogs determined to be dangerous.

Lindee’s attack is a bit unusual among dog bite cases because he’s 41 years old — not 4 or 81. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that most adults killed or seriously wounded by dogs are elderly people, who are more fragile. However, statistics show that the vast majority of victims of serious dog attacks are children and teens. Children’s short stature triggers dogs’ dominance urges and puts their vulnerable body parts close to the dog’s teeth and claws. In addition, younger children may not recognize when a dog is getting angry, and older kids may take risks to impress one another. The results can be tragic: sudden maulings that cause death, amputations or lifelong physical and emotional scarring for a young child.

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