KNOXVILLE, Tennessee––Much praised for steeply reducing shelter killing in recent years, the Blount County Animal Shelter is now facing a lawsuit alleging that incautious behavioral assessment and adoption promotion led to a seven-year-old boy suffering a severe mauling by a pit bull the shelter had recently rehomed.
The victim, Sport Kim, of Maryville, Tennessee, suffered life-threatening injuries and facial disfigurement requiring 1,000 stitches, followed by an ongoing series of plastic surgeries. His parents, Samson and Jennifer Kim, on May 2, 2014 asked the Blount County Circuit Court to award the family $250,000 in damages.
Jennifer Kim told ANIMALS 24-7 that the attack occurred when the family arrived at the home of her sister, unaware that the sister and her partner had adopted the pit bull. Samson Kim almost immediately became concerned about the behavior of the pit bull, Jennifer Kim said, and asked his family to leave, but the pit bull leaped on Sport Kim when he stood up to go.
The lawsuit alleges that Blount County Animal Shelter personnel were aware that the pit bull had exhibited dangerous behavior, but told the adopters that the dog was well-behaved and not aggressive.
In a similar case coming to light the same day, Casandra Cosgriff, of Farmingdale, New York, is “planning to sue the town of Riverhead for several million dollars,” Kristin Thorne of WABC reported on May 2, 2014. Cosgriff was in February 2014 severely mauled by a pit bull adopted several years earlier from the Town of Riverhead animal shelter.
Cosgriff learned after the attack that the pit bull had been abused and had allegedly been fought.
“There was a known history of severe abuse with this dog and she should not have been placed with a family,” said Sandra Radna, Cosgriff’s attorney.
The Cosgriff case surfaced about 18 months after Riverhead chief animal control officer Jessica Eibs-Stankaitis was mauled while walking a pit bull from one part of the shelter to another.
Litigation pending in Dayton
No legal action has been brought as yet against public agencies and officials over the February 7, 2014 dog mauling death of Klonda Richey, 57, of Dayton, Ohio, but a relative on May 9, 2014 reportedly sued dog owners Andrew Nason, 28, and Julie Custer, 23, seeking damages and legal fees in excess of $25,000.
Richey had complained to the Dayton 911 system and to the Montgomery County Animal Resource Center at least 29 times in two years about the behavior of Nason and Custer’s two Cane Corsos. Richey had also paid for building a new fence to keep the dogs from harassing her and her cats, had installed security cameras to document the dogs’ ongoing incursions, and unsuccessfully sought a restraining order against Nason and Custer in January 2013.
After Richey was killed, police shot both dogs at the scene.
Montgomery County Animal Resource Center director Mark Kumpf contended to media that current Ohio law requires dog wardens to see violations in order to cite them, but his interpretation does not appear to be spelled out in the law, and has been disputed by other Ohio dog wardens.
As an Ohio County Dog Wardens Association board member, Kumpf in 2012 joined the Best Friends Animal Society and the Animal Farm Foundation, a pit bull advocacy organization which funds the National Canine Research Council, in successfully campaigning for the repeal of a state law which would have allowed Kumpf’s agency to cite Nason and Custer on first complaint for having inadequate fencing to keep their dogs from leaving their yard.
The law recognized as “vicious” any dog who who “[b]elongs to a breed that is commonly known as a pit bull dog.” People in possession of pit bulls were required to meet specific standards for safely confining them, and were required to have liability insurance covering any of the pit bulls’ actions.
Cane Corsos, though dubiously traced back to Roman times by some breeders’ web sites, are a mastiff/pit bull mix which according to NewspaperArchive.com were first listed for sale in classified ads in 1995.
Winning in dog attack cases is easier than collecting
“Suing a government agency is difficult for a host of reasons,” assesses Los Angeles attorney and Dog Bite Law blogger Kenneth Phillips. One of those reasons is the doctrine of “sovereign immunity,” which protects governments from being sued without their consent. But municipal and county governments have only limited claims to sovereign immunity, and when sued successfully, can be made to pay the judgments.
Winning cases against individuals whose dogs have done grievous harm has proved to be much easier than collecting damages, particularly when the dog owners do not have liability insurance and do not own real estate.
In one recently settled case the victim, three years old when mauled by a pit bull, will only begin to receive compensation of $300,000 at age 18.
In another, district judge Mike DiReda, of Ogden, Utah, on April 6, 2014 awarded $250,000 to Rottweiler attack victim Sara Loving. Defendants James and Cindy Davis, however, had reportedly moved to Louisiana, and did not appear in court. Loving’s attorney, Stephen Farr, told Andreas Rivera of the Ogden Standard Examiner that Loving has only a “remote chance” of receiving all of the money because the defendants were uninsured.
Despite complaints made to the Weber County Animal Shelter and to Ogden City Animal Services, Rivera added, the dog was apparently not impounded and no incident report was filed.
Jerry Kern, of Delray Beach, Florida, was in March 2014 won a jury award of $7.7 million for injuries suffered in a December 2011 attack by three dogs believed to be pit bull mixes, kept by former neighbors Laurie and Bruce Cossar.
The Cossars “didn’t defend themselves during the daylong trial,” reported Palm Beach Post staff writer Jane Musgrave. “After the lawsuit was filed in 2012, they sold their house. It appears they have moved back to the Turks & Caicos, where at least one of Bruce Cossar’s businesses is based.”
Turks & Caicos legislation
Turks & Caicos minister of environment, health, and home affairs Amanda Missick on March 20, 2014 won unanimous passage of legislation which forbids the import to the islands of any dogo Argentino, American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, American bulldog, Japanese tosa, perro de presa canario, and fila Brasiliero.
Dogs on a second list of restricted breeds must be sterilized, microchipped, and confined behind escape-proof walls, with warning signs posted.
These breeds, mostly pit bull and mastiff variants, include Appenzeller, Aryan molossus, bandog, beaveeron, Belgian mastiff, bull mastiff, Danish broholmer, Dogue de Bordeaux (Bordeaux bulldog), great Swiss mountain dog, jindo, kuvasaz, leonburger, Moscow watch dog, Neapolitan mastiff, perro de presa mallorquin, Roman fighting dog (Cane Corso), Rottweiler, South African boerboel, and Tibetan mastiff.
(See also Weak dog laws blamed for deaths in Ohio & U.K.)