Record award in fostering case remains lower than record awards in cases involving adoption and shelter volunteer
HACKENSACK, New Jersey––A $1.62 million settlement to be paid by Eleventh Hour Rescue, of Flanders, New Jersey, to pit bull attack victim Carol Olsen, 59, of Midland Park, New Jersey, appears to be the highest disclosed payout yet in a case brought against an animal shelter for alleged negligence in sending animals to foster homes.
Eleventh Hour Rescue, winning IRS 501(c)(3) charitable status in 2005, is an all-volunteer-managed no-kill organization, with annual revenue of more than $1 million and assets of almost $1.4 million, as of the fiscal year ending on October 31, 2021, according to IRS Form 990.
Olsen was injured in March 2021 by a pit bull named Alamo, who was being fostered for Eleventh Hour Rescue at a townhouse in Mahwah, New Jersey.
Olsen’s attorney, Christopher DiGirolamo of Saddle River, New Jersey, told NorthJersey.com reporter Philip DeVencentis that Olsen visited the townhouse as an invited guest.
“When she went to push the dog off her leg, the dog bit her right thumb off,” DiGirolamo said. “The thumb could not be reattached.”
Frosting on the cake
Wrote DeVencentis, “DiGirolamo said the injury initially made it impossible for his client to do her job in the bakery at a Wyckoff supermarket, but she returned to work when it healed months later. He said she is still not able to create the delicate flowers and other icing decorations that she made before the attack.
“The loss of her thumb has also had lasting effects on her day-to-day life, DiGirolamo said. Household chores and tasks as simple as opening jars and putting on jewelry are beyond her ability, he said.”
DiGirolamo sued both Eleventh Hour Rescue and the owner of the townhouse in January 2022 on Olsen’s behalf.
“The lawsuit claimed that the rescue and the owner of the foster home were both liable for the attack because Alamo was not in a cage or muzzled,” DeVencentis said.
Counterclaim & bankruptcy
New Jersey law, DeVencentis explained, “stipulates that the owner of a dog who bites a person is liable for damages, regardless of the ‘viciousness’ of the animal or the owner’s ‘knowledge of such viciousness.’
“The rescue pinned blame on the owner of the foster home,” DeVencentis continued. “It entered a counterclaim to demand that he indemnify the nonprofit and provide coverage of liability insurance. He later filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection, court records show, because he was uninsured.”
Zoey Green vs. Panhandle Animal Welfare Society
The highest settlement in a case in which an animal shelter or rescue was sued for rehoming a dangerous dog is believed to have come when the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society, of Fort Walton Beach, Florida, on September 5, 2019 agreed to pay a sum believed to be substantially higher than the Eleventh Hour Rescue settlement to Zoey Green, age five when severely mauled by a rehomed pit bull named Mandingo on March 25, 2017.
Green’s mother, Paige Woody, sued the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society and animal control officer Kevin Schoeneman on Green’s behalf.
Paige Woody, according to a detailed account of the attack by Northwest Florida Daily News reporter Wendy Victoria, published on March 29, 2017, “had agreed to pet sit Mandingo and another dog at their home while their owner,” Lodie Hennessy, then 55, “worked in the south part of Okaloosa County. Paige already had been there twice.”
Rehomed after prior attack
The attack was among the most severe that any dog mauling victim survived.
As Hennessy was effectively indigent, there appeared to be no one to sue to recover the cost of treating Green, until personal injury attorneys David Swanick III and Cherish N. Patitz learned of the prior history of the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society involving Mandingo.
Mandingo in July 2015 had injured several people and a cockapoo in the lobby of the Bluewater Veterinary Clinic in Niceville, Florida. But the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society, according to the lawsuit on behalf of Zoey Green, failed to take appropriate action to protect the public from Mandingo.
30-year history of neglecting public safety
The Panhandle Animal Welfare Society in fact already had a 30-year history of allegedly neglecting public safety in previous dangerous dog cases, detailed by ANIMALS 24-7 in Pit bull victims sue the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society.
Shalimar, Florida resident Nancy Menkener warned that “The next victim might be a small child”bin a 1986 open letter of complaint about Panhandle Animal Welfare Society failures to respond effectively to pit bull killings of cats
Two years later, on September 23, 1988, the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society sent a wolf hybrid named Chief to his fourth home in four months, after promoting him as “Pet of the Week.”
Within an hour, Chief escaped, chasing neighbor Heather Locke into her home.
Another neighbor, Sharon Kay Carpenter, found Chief running at large, brought him into her yard, and called the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society. Chief killed her son Nathan Carpenter, age 4, while she was on the telephone.
Panhandle Animal Welfare Society repeated mistakes
Nathan Carpenter was the first person known to have been killed by any dog rehomed by a U.S. animal shelter. Only one more person was killed by a rehomed dog during the next 15 years, but at least 38 people have been killed by dogs rehomed from shelters and rescues since then.
For about 10 years, meanwhile, the known upper-end liability payment in a lawsuit against a humane society resulting from a dog attack was the $425,000 paid by the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society in 1991 to the Carpenter family.
Kelly Kaneko vs. Los Angeles Animal Services
The highest known jury award against an animal shelter for a dog attack came on May 31, 2023, in Los Angeles, Califoria.
Finding Los Angeles Animal Services guilty of gross negligence, the Los Angeles awarded $6.8 million to German shepherd mix attack victim and former shelter volunteer Kelly Kaneko, 36.
The Kaneko award helped to set the floor for awards anticipated in more than a dozen other lawsuits reportedly pending against Los Angeles Animal Services as result of other dog attacks, mostly involving employees, volunteers, and adopters injured by pit bulls.