Landlord’s failure to respond or defend puzzles observers
ATLANTA, Georgia––A $4.25 million default judgment issued on June 1, 2018 against Atlanta landlord Jonathan Kent Hart, 61, for an August 26, 2016 pit bull attack may be the biggest yet in which the victim is believed to be likely to collect at least a substantial part of the money.
But further litigation is expected, while defendant Hart’s lack of response to the case perplexes observers.
Victim Nakisa Shavon Hiles, 40, formerly Nakisa Hiles Wilkerson, had just rented a room at 1572 Montreat Avenue SW, Atlanta, according to court filings, and “was entering the rear entrance in a cautious and prudent manner,” when “a pit bull broke off its chain,” charged Hiles, and without provocation, viciously attacked and repeatedly bit” her on her right leg and ankle.
32 stitches on shin alone
“She had 32 stitches on her shin alone,” attorney Joshua Davis of the Morgan & Morgan national personal injury law firm told Greg Land of Law.com.
The wound became infected.
“It was obviously very traumatic. She walks with a permanent limp now,” Davis said.
Davis, Land wrote, “said the dog was apparently owned by a prior tenant who died some months earlier.
“Technically it was nobody’s dog,” Davis said. “The other tenants would throw it scraps. Apparently other neighbors had complained about it getting off the chain.”
Through online searching, ANIMALS 24-7 found an undated photo which appeared to show a pit bull at the location of the attack, near the rear entrance of 1572 Montreat Avenue SW, and discovered that the pit bull matched the appearance of a pit bull belonging to a former resident of the property, but whether the photo actually showed the pit bull in question could not be established.
Defendant allegedly knew of the danger
While Davis, representing Hiles, acknowledged that the pit bull was not Hart’s personal pet, Hiles’ filings hold that “Defendant Hart did not maintain a ‘proper enclosure’ for the dog,” as defined by state and local legislation, that “Defendant Hart was negligent in failing to restrain the dog,” and that “Defendant Hart, as owner and/or guardian of the dog,” by reason of the pit bull being on his property with his knowledge, had “knowledge of the general propensity and disposition of the dog’s menacing behavior through previous experiences with the animal.
“Defendant Hart,” Davis argued on Hiles’ behalf, “had actual knowledge that the dog had bitten people or attempted to bite people before.”
Leading to the $4.25 million judgement, rendered by State Judge Wesley Tailor, Hart “never responded to a lawsuit seeking about $60,000 in medical bills and other damages,” Land reported.
Plaintiff sought $11 million
“Davis said Hart assiduously avoided Hiles in the months after the accident, refusing to speak to her or to collect rent. After she contacted Davis, who began trying to get insurance information from Hart, the landlord filed a dispossessory action against Hiles in Fulton County Magistrate Court,” seeking to evict her, “but then missed “a dispossessory hearing last year, during which Davis asked that the case be moved to State Court.”
Hart then missed the June 1, 2018 trial date.
“We waited almost an hour and [Hart] didn’t appear,” Davis told Land. “I had filed a notice of default, so I put on my full case for the judge.”
Concluded Land, “Davis said he asked for $11 million in damages. Tailor retired to his chambers and returned after about 20 minutes” with the judgment.
Davis now must “file a writ of fieri facias with the court to satisfy the judgment,” Land explained. “Hart apparently holds interests in multiple properties that Davis intends to go after.”
“I’ve found at least 16 properties associated with him,” Davis said. “That’s why it was so baffling that he never responded when I requested his insurance information. He could have probably settled for his policy limit.”
Land said Hart “did not respond to an email address listed on court filings for him. A man who answered the phone number listed for him profanely shouted he had no money and would not identify himself before hanging up.”
House sold for fraction of estimated value
The 1,740-square-foot house at 1572 Montreat Ave SW, Atlanta, was built in 1935, according to the online real estate information services Redfin and Zillow, with rapidly appreciating value variously estimated at $136,418 to $285,566––but on September 26, 2016, exactly one month after Hiles was attacked, the listings agree, it “sold for $32,000.”
Little other information about defendant Jonathan Kent Hart was readily available. On October 29, 2012, however, the Atlanta Examiner reported that after a shooting incident among patrons at the Deja Vu Sports Bar & Lounge at 1575 Joseph E. Boone Boulevard, about eight minutes away in the same part of Atlanta, “bar owner Jonathan Hart, 55,” whose age would match that of Jonathan Kent Hart, “was arrested for operating a business outside of hours, according to Atlanta police.”
The Déjà Vu Sports Bar & Lounge closed at some point after failing a Georgia Department of Public Health inspection in 2015. A variety of other businesses appear to have operated more recently at the same address.
Higher awards unpaid
ANIMALS 24-7 is aware of at least five awards to dog attack victims larger than the $4.25 awarded to Hiles, including a $100 million award to pit bull victim Steven Constantine, of Wayne County, Michigan, issued by circuit judge Daphne Means Curtis during Dog Bite Prevention Week 2015, but none in which the victim actually received an amount approaching the awarded sum.
The biggest court award for a dog attack on record in Georgia appears to be $37 million issued in January 2015 to pit bull attack victim Erin Ingram by DeKalb County senior judge Matthew Robins, of Decatur, Georgia. But the award, against Twyann Artrell Vaughn, whose pit bulls attacked Ingram in 2010, was expected to be largely symbolic.
Vaughn was in 2012 sentenced to serve 16 months in jail, spend 36 months on probation, and perform 240 hours of community service for violations of the Georgia Vicious Dog Act.
Best Friends Network volunteer was killed
Despite the severity of the Ingram mauling, the DeKalb County commissioners in May 2012 repealed a ban on possession of pit bulls, responding to a campaign led by Best Friends Network volunteer and vet tech trainee Rebecca Carey.
Carey, 23, was on August 13, 2012 found dead at her home from neck and upper torso injuries inflicted by one or more of the five dogs in her care, among whom were two pit bulls, two Presa Canarios, and a boxer mix.