Dog bite victims receive millions of dollars annually in compensation for injuries they sustained as a result of a dog bite attack. However, a $36 million award was received by one Georgia dog bite victim, as reported by dog bite expert witness Richard Polsky Ph.D. This record-setting award came about as a result of the plaintiff’s successful claim for punitive damages.
Vicious dog attacks on people frequently inspire plaintiff dog bite attorneys to include a punitive damages claim in their lawsuit – in addition to the usual claim for compensatory damages and other damages associated with a dog bite lawsuit. However, punitive damages are often difficult to establish in dog bite cases given the lack of evidence to support such a claim. And and not surprisingly motions are filed by the defense to exclude punitive damages if the case proceeds to trial.
Case law in most states does not specify the criteria for punitive damages in dog bite lawsuits. Therefore, the Court usually decides if the claim goes before a jury, and if it does the burden is on the plaintiff to establish that the dog owner acted with “despicable disregard” with regard to public safety. Very often this is difficult to prove because of lack of conclusive evidence implicating the dog in a previous dog bite attack.
Hence, this $36 million punitive damage award verdict delivered by a jury in DeKalb County, Georgia is somewhat shocking. In fact, the total amount of the reward to the victim was $72 million given that an additional $36 million was awarded in an compensatory. The Court reduced the amount for punitive damages to $250,000 – the upper limit allowed for a punitive damage claim as governed Georgia law.
The verdict in this case, rendered in January 2015, came about a result of vicious pit bull attack on an eight-year-old girl. The incident happened in 2010. The left arm at the girl was partially amputated and her right arm was also severely injured. She was attacked in front of her home while playing basketball.
Fact pattern in this dog bite case similar to others
The jury stated that they wanted to send a message to the public about irresponsible dog ownership. The fact pattern was very similar to the circumstances surrounding many other vicious dog bite attacks. Namely, the dog involved was a pit bull, a pack of dogs took part in the attack, the attack happened after the dogs escaped from the property in which they were kept, and evidence indicated that the dogs were attack trained. In the criminal proceedings, the defendant dog owner was found guilty of violating George’s Vicious Dog Act and was sentenced to 16 months in prison.