$1.26 million Akita dog bite verdict in Florida was awarded to an elderly lady as a result of being mauled on her left foot by an Akita at a dog show in Melbourne Florida in 2008. The verdict was
rendered at trial in 2012.
The incident happened when the plaintiff attempted to walk past the dog who was being held on a slack leash by a dog trainer (also named as a defendant in the case). The Akita lunged grabbed and latched onto the plaintiff’ s left foot and would not let go until forcibly pulled away by the trainer and others who were nearby.
Discovery revealed that the Akitawas adopted by the owner, a defendant in the case, from a rescue organization. In total there were three defendants in the case: the dog owner, the dog trainer (for negligent handling), and the rescue organization.
Plaintiff produced compelling evidence indicating that the Akita had a previous history of attacking people and that the owner knew about the dog’s past aggressive behavior. Evidence was gathered from email correspondence between the owner and rescue organization establishing that the owner must have known about prior aggressive tendencies in the dog, and that it had bitten five other people previous to the incident in question. Discovery also revealed that the Akita had a fetish for attacking feet.
The victim underwent five surgeries. Surgery reduced the length of her left leg by 3 inches. Dr. Polsky served as the plaintiff’s dog bite expert witness.
Advice for attorneys
The right combination of factors were present to make this verdict possible. Namely, injuries to the plaintiff were serious, and discovery was sufficient to indicate the dog owner knew about the Akita’s past aggressive tendencies. The email correspondence was particularly damaging to the defense. The attorney for the plaintiff (Allison McMillan) focus was mainly on the dog owner, since she had the deep pockets with respect to insurance coverage. Throughout the litigation, the dog owner denied knowing much about the dogs dangerous nature, and this denial probably did not play out well with the jury.
In cases like this, animal behavior expert testimony helps to establish the foreseeability of an attack, given such factors as the breed of the dog in question along with its past aggressive history. Animal behavior expert testimony could also address the inherent behavioral proclivities in some Akita dogs.