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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Negligence by the police K-9 handler?

On Super Bowl Sunday my client went to the John C. Lincoln Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona because he drank to much and feared alcohol poisoning. His last recollection was arriving in the parking lot of the hospital, as he does not recall the K9 attack.

Police dog bite expert
Negligence in the handling of the police K-9 may happen when the handler loses control over the dog.

According to the limited police report, he was accused of trespassing but refused to leave and the K9 was deployed by hospital security. He ended up with 3 major dog bite wounds to his left arm resulting in a triceps laceration, biceps laceration and contusion of median and ulnar nerves. During the attack he fell to the floor and hit his head and he also sustained a scalp laceration. He was told that if he had not been at a hospital when the attack occurred that he may have died. He was hospitalized for 6 days and then transferred to skilled nursing facility for a month.

He was unable to work as an air conditioning mechanic for 3 and 1/2 months and has permanent damage limiting the use of his arm. It appears that when the client showed up to request treatment that due to his intoxication the hospital instead of providing care directed him to leave and some sort of altercation with security occurred.

While we are at a disadvantage because the client does not recall the attack, I was wondering if the injuries were such that an expert could find negligence due to the severity of the injuries. I am looking to hire an expert if warranted. Any feedback you can offer would be much appreciated. Thank you.

Response by Dr. Polsky

I find this to be an interesting and rather unusual fact pattern, and I’m assuming the incident involved police K-9? Humans attacked by attack trained police K-9s  often sustain severe injury, usually more severe than the typical dog bite by a companion dog, even a pit bull.

The reasons for this is that  attack trained police canines are taught to viciously bite and hold, and handlers usually lose control over the dog when they are deployed in the field to attack a human.  This boils down to negligence on the part of the handler.  Handlers often are unable to control their dog to prevent severe injury, or prevent injury greater than what was needed to apprehend the  suspect.  Hence, this becomes a question about whether excessive force was used. In addition to animal behavior expert opinion, the opinion of the use of force expert may be needed to substantiate negligence on the part of the handler or the municipality.

I do not know the circumstances of this particular incident, therefore it is difficult for me to comment any further.

Follow-up from attorney

It is my understanding that the dog was deployed by hospital security and not the police, as when the police arrived I believe my client was already receiving emergency care for his injuries. Is it common for private security companies to have their own attack dog?

Response by Dr. Polsky 

I have never served as an expert in a case involving this kind of dog.  And I do not know the extent to which private security companies use these dogs. When they are used, then I would be interested in learning the nature of the training these dogs receive, if any.  Offhand, it sounds problematic for a security company and their security guards to use a dangerous weapon such as an attacked-trained canine.