Humane Society allegedly rehomed pit bull as a “child-friendly” boxer mix
CLINTON, Iowa––Legally responding with unusual speed to the March 15, 2017 pit bull mauling of their 15-month-old son Lucas Harrison, parents Tyler and Holly Harrison on March 28, 2017 sued both the owners of the pit bull, Kris and Ashley Greene, and the Clinton Humane Society, which had reportedly adopted the three-year-old pit bull to them barely an hour before, identified as a five-year-old “boxer mix.”
Acting on behalf of the Harrison family, Clinton attorney John A. Frey Jr. requested a jury trial.
Why the rush to file?
Lawsuits seeking damages for dog attacks are usually filed months or even years later, after the financial damages can be more accurately estimated than in the immediate wake of an attack and typically after attempts at negotiating settlements.
“My practice is to investigate thoroughly before filing a lawsuit,” commented California personal injury attorney and Dog Bite Law blogger Kenneth Phillips to ANIMALS 24-7, “but there are other valid litigation strategies, among them getting something on file so the victims’ lawyers will have the legal authority to conduct formal discovery –– taking the testimony of witnesses at depositions, demanding production of evidence from reluctant parties, and more. I favor a covert investigation,” Phillips said, “but have also filed quickly so I could use the power of the court.”
The Harrison petition, filed as at the Clinton County Courthouse as case 07231 LACV043732, “alleges one count against Kris and Ashley Greene for dog owners’ strict liability, and two counts against the Clinton Humane Society for product liability, negligence and breach of express warranty,” summarized Clinton Herald reporter John Rohlf.
Also charged by the city of Clinton with possession of a dangerous dog, Ashley Greene pleaded not guilty on the same day she was sued. A trial date of April 13, 2017 was assigned to the dangerous dog case, unless Greene petitions for trial by jury or seeks a postponement.
“Dangerous dog” law
Possession of a dangerous dog in Iowa is a simple misdemeanor, for which Greene could be fined a maximum of $625 and be sentenced to serve a maximum of two years in custody, according to Iowa Code 903.
“According to Clinton City Ordinance 91.127 and 91.128, a dog who is declared dangerous must be registered with the city as a dangerous animal, be confined indoors unless it is on a leash less than four feet in length and has a muzzle on, and the owner must have at least $100,000 in personal liability insurance,” reported Nick Moffitt of the Clinton Herald.
However, the dog Greene adopted, named Emmet, had not actually been declared dangerous, leaving the city with the burden of proof to establish that Greene should have known the dog was dangerous.
Greene has actively helped to raise funds for victim Lucas Harrison through a GoFundMe page set up by the Harrison family. Through March 30, 2017 the site had recorded pledges totaling more than $171,000––but this is just a fraction of the anticipated costs of care for Lucas Harrison.
“A large part of his gum/bone including permanent teeth were ripped out, most of his nose cartilage was destroyed, and he will have lifelong damage,” wrote relative Amber Barkdoll Harrison when the GoFundMe page was posted. “He will not have any upper front teeth, will need dental reconstruction to hopefully support false teeth when he is an adult, and have more facial surgeries in the future.”
Lucas Harrison also suffered from fluid accumulating in his lungs several days after the attack, and remains in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital in Iowa City.
Pit transported from Louisiana
Emmet, the pit bull who mauled Lucas Harrison, named by volunteers during a five-month stay at the New Iberia Parish Animal Shelter in Louisiana, was relocated to the Clinton Humane Society on February 27, 2017 by NOLA Freedom Transport.
Apparently not incorporated, NOLA Freedom Transport was founded in 2014 by SugarDeaux Cookies & Cakes owner Karen Anderson of Destrehan, Louisiana.
Emmet, following the attack on Lucas Harrison, was returned to the Clinton Humane Society for quarantine.
The Clinton Humane Society has not commented on either the attack or the pending lawsuit, but the Clinton Humane Society web site and Facebook page continue to promote pit bulls for adoption.
Sheena Quick, hired as office director in January 2016, apparently serving as chief executive since September 2016, continues to post to social media photos of young children in proximity to pit bulls and statements of opposition to breed-specific legislation.
The Harrison family lawsuit alleges, wrote Rolfe, that the Clinton Humane Society could have reduced or avoided “foreseeable risks of harm” by:
Instructing the Greenes on proper precautions to be taken when transitioning a dog from a shelter facility to a family home environment.
- Instructing the Greenes on the proper precautions to be taken when bringing their dog into the home of a friend, where another dog, an infant and small children are present.
- Warning the Greenes to be especially cautious with Emmett when in the presence of infants and small children.
- Warning the Greenes that the Clinton Humane Society’s ability to determine whether or not a dog is child friendly is extremely limited, rather than telling them the dog being sold and distributed to them was child friendly.
- Warning the Greenes that Emmett came to the Clinton Humane Society after spending five months at the Iberia Parish Animal Shelter and having been scheduled for euthanasia.
- Warning the Greenes that Emmett “could be a pit bull mix, even though he was allegedly advertised by the Clinton Humane Society as a boxer mix,” Rolfe recounted.
“The petition says the omission of the instructions or warnings and the giving of an instruction the dog was child-friendly was a cause of the damages incurred by Lucas,” Rolfe added. “The petition alleges the Clinton Humane Society sold or distributed the dog to the Greenes and expressly warranted the dog as child friendly.”
The Harrison family alleges Emmet did harm to Lucas including expenses, pain, suffering, mental anguish, and loss of bodily functions which will continue beyond his 18th birthday, requiring hospitalization, medical and nursing care, therapy and prescription drugs, and will result in loss of future earning capacity.
“Also alleged in the petition,” Rolfe wrote, “is that Holly witnessed the injury and has suffered and will continue to suffer mental pain, anguish and emotional distress.
“The one count against the Greenes, Rolfe added, “states the Greenes are strictly liable for all damages done by their dog, citing Iowa code section 351.28.”
According to the California personal injury attorney and Dog Bite Law blogger Kenneth Phillips, “A dog bite victim in Iowa can recover compensation under a special statute and the doctrines of negligence, negligence per se, scienter [a legal term meaning that the offending party has knowledge of the ‘wrongness’ of an act prior to committing it], and intentional tort. Iowa is a strict liability state with a law that applies to injuries inflicted upon domestic animals and people.
Only two exemptions
“The Iowa dog bite statute imposes liability upon dog owners in a variety of circumstances,” explains Phillips. “It covers all damage if the dog bites a person, attempts to bite a person, attacks a person,” or is “caught in the action of worrying, maiming or killing a domestic animal.”
The only exemptions to strict liability in Iowa, according to Phillips, are if the victim is doing ‘an unlawful act, directly contributing to the injury,’” or if the dog is rabid, without the knowledge of the owner.
Iowa law also permits parents or other witnesses to a traumatic event who are closely related to the victim to recover damages for emotional distress, says Phillips, citing the 1984 Iowa Supreme Court case Barnhill v. Davis, which involved an automobile accident, if “A reasonable person in the position of the bystander would believe, and the bystander did believe, that the direct victim of the accident would be killed or seriously injured, a serious injury being one which results in serious permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.”
The circumstances of the pit bull attack on Lucas Harrison appear to closely resemble those of a 1988 fatal attack on four-year-old Nathan Carpenter, two hours after the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society of Fort Walton Beach, Florida, rehomed the wolf hybrid who killed Carpenter to his fourth home in under four months. The Panhandle Animal Welfare Society had promoted the wolf hybrid as featured “Pet of the Week.”
The Carpenter family won an award of $425,000, which for about 10 years was the known upper-end liability payment in a lawsuit against a humane society resulting from a dog attack.
The Panhandle Animal Welfare Society closed for several months afterward, but eventually reopened under new management.