Testimony given by litigants in dog bite cases frequently can be challenged from an animal behavior perspective. Below, Richard Polsky, PhD, gives examples from cases in which he rendered testimony as an expert.
- In one case, the plaintiff testified that his neighbor’s dog attacked him in his backyard by jumping over a 6 foot wall into his yard and then jumping back into the yard from which it came. Dr. Polsky’s testimony was used to show that the dog could not have possibly jumped over the wall, but rather that the plaintiff extended his hand far enough into the airspace of his neighbor’s property, allowing the dog to bite his hand.
- In another case, involving a canine police dog being handled by an officer from the Sheriff’s Department, the handler testified that his 90 pound German Shepherd crawled under a car and dragged the suspect, hiding under the car, out into the open. The suspect testified that he crawled out from under the car voluntarily and surrendered to police officers who had the car surrounded. Measurements were taken of the dog, and it became clear to Dr. Polsky that a dog of this size could not have dragged the suspect from beneath the car.
- In another dog bite case, it was alleged that the defendant’s dog attacked the plaintiff, but a behavioral examination of the dog along with an examination of the bite wound on the plaintiff, allowed Dr. Polsky to conclude that the dog did not have the temperament, or was it physically capable, of attacking the plaintiff in the manner described.
- In another case, in which a non-suspect was attacked by a police K-9, Dr. Polsky’s review of the dog’s training records and subsequent testimony indicated that it would have been difficult for the handler to control the dog on a 30 foot leash given the circumstances present, after the handler deployed the dog in the field for suspect apprehension.
The above examples illustrate how animal behavior expert opinion can be of value in dog bite cases. The dog bite expert has the expertise to testify about how the dog was capable of behaving, and why the dog behaved as it did, given the fact pattern under consideration. Reconstruction of the events using expert opinion in animal behavior may help. If expert opinion from the animal behaviorist conflicts with the accounts given by the plaintiff, defendant, dog handler, or others, then the credibility of a witness may be questioned.