Dog Bite | Animal Behavior Expert Witness For Attorneys

Richard H. Polsky, Ph.D. CDBC
Los Angeles, California

“Bringing the science of animal behavior to attorneys”

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Animal behavior expert witness in California

Animal behavior expert witness, Richard Polsky, Ph.D. provides legal services to attorneys in lawsuits involving personal injury caused by dogs.  Dr. Polsky is available for assignment as a dog bite specialist.

Dog bite expert witness
Animal behavior expert witness in California, Richard Polsky Ph.D. Dr. Polsky provides legal services to attorneys.

This page introduces the expert witness services of Dr. Polsky  through example of a lawsuit in which he was retained as an expert for the plaintiff.  The action arose from a vicious attack by a pit bull.

Why retain an animal behavior expert witness?

In short, the opinions proffered by an animal behavior expert witness often help resolve issues of liability. This is particularly true when liability is contested. Common animal behavior issues an expert can help answer are those dealing with provocation, negligence, foreseeability, and in some instances, justification for punitive damages.

Below, I will summarize the fact pattern of a California dog bite lawsuit in which the plaintiff, an exterminator, was viciously attacked by the owner’s pit bull.  An interesting part of the case was that the plaintiff made a claim for punitive damages. There were substantial animal behavior bases to support this claim.

Background

The plaintiff, an exterminator in his forties, was on the defendant’s property t0 spray the outside of the house.  He had been doing this work for the defendant/dog owner for several years.

During his visits arrangements are made with the owner to confine her pit bull, named Bruno, in the house so he could spray the backyard.  On the day of the incident, the owner may not have been home and her pit but was left in the backyard. There was a dispute about whether she was present, however. Regardless of her presence, the gate to the backyard was in disrepair and secured by with a single zip tie.

The incident happened when the plaintiff was spraying the side of the house adjacent to the backyard. The pit bull broke through the gate and viciously attacked him, a 40-year-old man in good physical condition. The plaintiff stopped the attack by spraying the dog in the face with his hose and then jumped up on a nearby wall to escape.  The pit bull quickly recovered and started jumping and barking at the plaintiff.   He immediately called 911. The police arrived shortly thereafter, and killed the dog with a gun.

Was the incident foreseeable?

The defendant’s deposition testimony destroyed the case for the defense.

  • First, she testified that Bruno would act aggressively towards unfamiliar people who came near her property;
  • Second, she acknowledged that she kept Bruno as a security dog;
  • Third, she testified that pit bulls were naturally aggressive.
  • Fourth, she failed to neuter and train Bruno despite the fact that many of her previous dogs were well trained and neutered.
  • Fifth, the plaintiff testified that Bruno would probably attack a stranger because of his protective nature and that he would aggressively bark at anyone who came near the property;
  • Sixth, the defendant felt that Bruno was extremely muscular, powerful and very intimidating.  Bruno was an outside dog so he was kept in the backyard most of the day and night.
  • Seventh, defendant testified that the backyard gate was in a state of disrepair but she did not have time to fix it so she temporarily kept it shut with a plastic zip tie.

Animal behavior expert opinion

  • The plaintiff was attacked because of Bruno’s strong territorial reactivity. The defendant knew of  Bruno’s territorial nature and dislike of unfamiliar people who approach the property and therefore the incident should have clearly been Dog bite expert opinionforeseeable to her.
  •  Despite her knowledge of  Bruno’s aggressive nature, she failed to either train or neuter Bruno.  She was negligent in this regard because these interventions may have a strong likelihood of reducing aggressive tendencies in male dogs. The defendant undertook these interventions with all of her previous dogs but not Bruno.
  • The defendant acted in a reckless manner with respect to the manner in which she secured Bruno in her backyard. The gate was in a state of disrepair. It should have been secured with a padlock and not with a zip tie.  Given this, it should have been foreseeable to her that when a stranger approached the backyard Bruno would bark and banged against the gate which in turn would cause it to open because it was not properly secured.
  • The main defense argument was that of provocation. However, there was little bases for this given the totality of the behavioral evidence.  Provocation often is the most viable defense to counter liability California and other states with strict liability for dog bites.

The case settled very favorably for the plaintiff shortly after my deposition was taken. The extent to which the claim for punitive damages influenced the amount of settlement is unknown, however.

 Publications and findings about canine behavior relevant to California dog bite law

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Animal behavior expert witness, Richard Polsky Ph.D., has testified in over 300 dog bite cases in California and other states throughout the USA and Canada.  He will consider assignments as an expert witness from personal injury attorneys involved in dog bite litigation.