Dog Bite | Animal Behavior Expert Witness

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

“Bringing the science of animal behavior to attorneys”

Animal behavior expert on dog bite attacks

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

“Bringing the science of animal behavior to attorneys”

Pit bull mauling victim awarded 2.2 million in Washington

Pit bull dog mauling victim, Sue Gorman, was awarded $2.2 million in August 2011 by a jury in Pierce County, Washington.

Severe injury to a person caused by a pit bull attack can be very costly to the defendants in the lawsuit.

The incident in question happened August, 2007 in Gig Harbor, Washington.

Below I will share some thoughts from my perspective in animal behavior.

Circumstances surrounding the incident

The fact pattern was as follows:

  • Two pit bulls were involved in the attack. These dogs had escaped from the home of a neighbor.
  • The dogs entered Gorman’s bedroom through an open sliding glass door. Gorman had kept the sliding glass door open in her bedroom in order to allow her dogs access to the backyard.
  • After entering, the two pit bulls attacked Gorman’s two dogs.
  • Gorman, a disabled person, was sleeping when the incident started. She was awakened by the disturbance and she awoke at the disturbance and attempted to shoot the pit bulls to stop the attack on her dogs.
  • Gorman escaped and called 911. She sustained severe dog bite injury. Gorman was hospitalized with bites to her arms, face, neck, chest and nose.
  • One of her dogs, a Jack Russell terrier, was killed, and the other survived.

Animal control – the Defendant with “Deep Pockets”

Two defendants were named in a lawsuit: Pierce County animal control and the owners of the pit bulls.

Animal control was the defendant with the “deep pockets.”, and  the pit bull owners were probably judgment proof .  Evidence entered at trial indicated that animal control had received numerous warnings about the pit bulls running loose in the neighborhood and terrorizing people.  Hence, there was justification for legal action against them.  Gorman herself had filed a complaint to animal control two months prior to the incident.

The main defense argument at trial was that the owner/keepers of the dogs were negligent in not keeping these dogs confined.


The jury apportioned fault as follows: 52% to the defendant keeper/owner, 42% to Pierce County, 5% to the owner of the male pit bull who had left the dog with the defendant keeper because she had gone out of town, and 1% to the victim.

After the trial concluded, the jury expressed concern that animal control did not act more constructively in protecting public safety after receiving complaints about the dogs.

Animal behavior perspective

Prior to the incident question these dogs  posed a grave the danger to public safety. The dogs were acting in concert, as a pack.  Animal behavior analysis of pit bull maulings similar to this incident unmistakably show that unsupervised packs of dogs, particularly if they are pit bulls, pose an extreme danger to public safety.

Animal control has the responsibility of ensuring dog bite safety within the community. In this regard, one can easily understood why the jury decided that animal control was negligent for their failure of allowing the dogs to remain  in the custody of the owners prior to the incident.

Appellate court affirms verdict

The verdict was appealed on the grounds of improper jury instruction and on the grounds that the law was improperly applied with respect to defendant, Pierce County Animal Control. The appellate court upheld the  decision of the lower court.  The defendants appealed to the Washington state Supreme Court.  However, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

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