Animal shelters and dog bites: Can you claim damages for your adopted dog’s attack?

Animal shelters and dog bites: Can you claim damages for your adopted dog’s attack?

You’re probably aware of the dangers of keeping a Burmese Python as a pet, but when you take home a pooch it just means you have a new best friend. But when you adopt a cuddly canine from an animal shelter, you need to make sure your new best friend won’t bite.

Animal welfare organizations rescue and shelter strays so they’re healthy and fit for adoption. However, not all organizations are able to control formerly feral dogs’ aggressive behavior. And if you adopt one, trouble awaits if they turn out to be beastly.

The California canine

When Mark and Maggie Hawblitzel adopted Charlie from Labradors and Friends Dog Rescue for their autistic son, Ryan, they weren’t aware of his violent past. Before getting adopted by the Hawblitzels, Charlie bit a woman’s finger at a doggie daycare center where the previous owner used to take him.

After the incident, Charlie was returned to the shelter where Ryan’s parents found him.

Twelve days into his stay with the Hawblitzels, Charlie bit Ryan in the face and severely disfigured his nose. The Hawblitzels sued the shelter and the San Diego County Department of Animal Services for failing to inform them that Charlie bit a person a mere two weeks prior and was generally just not a well-behaved pet.

Like the State of Washington, California is a “strict liability” state for dog bites, which means dog owners are responsible for whatever damage their pets cause. In this case, the shelter and the county are being sued for unleashing a barbaric beast on the public.

The danger dog of Delaware

When you’re the board president of an animal shelter, you must know the risks of keeping aggressive animals as pets. Former Delaware County Humane Society Board President Michael Prasse wasn’t.

Clearly an animal lover, Mr. Prasse refused to have Sadie euthanized and took her into his own home instead. In 2010, he was sued for the behavior of Sadie, a stray dog that terrorized two neighbors and their pets. The first incident involved James Allen and his Yorkshire terrier who were both attacked by Sadie. Sadie had a sadistic streak that struck again several months later and attacked a teenage girl and another Yorkie.

Although he was found liable, the shelter didn’t get a free pass for ignoring veterinarians’ assessments that belligerent beasts like Sadie shouldn’t be adopted and/or taken for walks near unsuspecting terriers.

The Missouri mutt

It usually takes just one dog bite for a victim to take action against the offending dog’s owner, but the Humane Society of Missouri believes differently.

When a pup that Linda Rich adopted from the organization bit a child, she was advised by the non-profit to “give the dog more time” and to have it attend a behavior modification class, which suggests they find dogs capable of rational thought.

There may well be dogs that can change for the better, but Linda’s wasn’t one of them. When the dog bit yet another child, she was sued. Linda thought she could pass the liability onto the Humane Society which convinced her to make the dog change its ways.

Delaware is also a strict liability state, but the Humane Society that was the original “owner” of the mangy mutt was off the hook, as it was no longer under their care when it bit child #2. In other words, they got rid of a problematic pet without repercussion.

One of the worst things about getting bitten by a dog is getting bitten by a dog whose owner isn’t known. As in the cases we’ve included here, determining dog ownership and figuring out who’s liable are a bit tricky when the dog is a one-time stray you’ve adopted. To sort out who would have to pay for sutures, you’d need advice from Seattle’s seasoned personal injury lawyers. Call us for questions on liabilities and claims for damages.