Oreo is a nine year old cockapoo dog who weighs about twenty-five pounds. He lives in Easthampton, New York at 24 Drew Lane. Oreo is somewhat of a local enigma. His owner has written columns about his exploits sarcastically commenting that Oreo attacks people, lies about his involvement, and gets away with his crimes. Oreo’s crime spree seems to have begun in 1998 with his first attack on a UPS driver. Oreo is particularly fond of domestic terror actions against UPS delivery personnel.
On March 27, 1998, Oreo crouched near the door of his home waiting to ambush the UPS driver who was walking up the drive to deliver a package to his owners. Oreo did his best to look innocent while the UPS driver approached. He waited until the last minute when there would be no escape for his victim. Oreo launched himself at the delivery man sinking his teeth into the man’s right ankle through his pants and socks. It was a vicious bite. The delivery man went to the hospital and received a shot as treatment for his injuries.
This UPS man became a favorite rival of Oreo’s. Oreo would wait anxiously time and time again to assault the poor man. The UPS man later testified at Oreo’s trial, where his owners were being held responsible for Oreo’s actions, that it was an ongoing ordeal. He stated that he was called upon to deliver packages to Oreo’s house on a regular basis and each time Oreo was waiting for him. He stated that about ninety percent of the time that he responded to Oreo’s house; Oreo would be outside running around freely.
Oreo made it his priority to get another bite in on that UPS man. Oreo loved chasing the UPS man and was convinced that given enough time, he would succeed in sending the man to the hospital again. Oreo was not worried about any consequences. His owners never did anything about his criminal undertakings. They just bailed him out when he needed it and wrote articles about his misdeeds.
The UPS man was not so entertained. He testified at trial that he quit taking the packages to the door altogether. He stated that he would simply leave the packages at the street. After all, Oreo’s owners had an electric underground fence around the property to keep Oreo and his brothers and sisters from leaving the yard to get into the street or down on the beach near the house. The UPS man would leave the packages at the end of the driveway because he stated that he was not going to be bitten again by Oreo.
When that UPS man foiled Oreo’s plans, he just had to expand his search for victims. In August of 2000, a different UPS man delivered a package to Oreo’s house. Yes, Oreo was waiting. Oreo delivered four or five deep puncture wounds to the back of the UPS driver’s calf drawing blood. The housekeeper invited the UPS driver in so that she could bind his wounds for him. She cleaned the wounds and bandaged them. He stated that he did not seek further medical treatment. Oreo was disappointed. He decided to alter his strategy and choose a different sort of victim. He moved his surveillance to the beach side of the house. Oreo knew that even though the property was surrounded by an electric fence. It was only activated by a collar worn on the necks of all of the dogs who lived at 24 Drew Lane. If the owners did not put the collars on, there was no danger of getting shocked for leaving the yard. Oreo knew that his owners frequently did not bother to put the collars on the dogs, including Oreo.
So it was that in the summer of 2002, a young woman was walking on the beach in front of Oreo’s house when Oreo launched himself at her. The housekeeper was with Oreo in the yard that day, but was helpless to stop the attack because Oreo was not on a leash. Oreo bit the woman through her pants. The bite was not up to Oreo’s usual standards. It did not break the skin and caused only pain and bruising to his victim. Oreo was determined to do a better job the next time.
So on August 4, 2003 Oreo was excited to have another attempt. His owners were throwing a party for some friends and acquaintances. Oreo’s owners put him in a back bedroom around noon to lock him up away from the party. Oreo immediately set out to escape. With all of the staff and caterers moving around, it was not difficult. He took up a look out post under a table by the pool to wait for someone to step in to his trap. It did not take long.
According to the medical reports filed on his latest victim, she received a “four centimeter laceration on her left, lower leg that pierced through her skin, and underlying muscle.” As a result of this bite going so deep, the victim’s left leg bone became infected and caused nerve damage and permanent scaring. She had to endure two painful ambulatory surgeries. His victim had to spend five days in the hospital and a month in an outpatient rehabilitation treatment center. Once released, she also had to have weekly occupational therapy sessions. The victim reports that she has psychological damage as well. This victim testified that on the day of her injury, Oreo’s owner had stated to her that Oreo had bitten before.
Because of the severity of this injury, the victim filed a lawsuit that at first did not request a monetary payment for damages suffered because of this attack. So, she is now seeking to amend the initial complaint to include damages. In order to claim damages, she must prove that Oreo’s people either knew or should have known that Oreo had the propensity to be vicious or that he had bitten someone before this situation.
According to case law set by the case of: See Schrage v. Hatzlacha Cab Corp., 13 AD3d 150 (1st Dept 2004) the courts do not usually award punitive damages in cases of ordinary negligence. So it becomes up to the victim and her New York Dog Bite Injury Lawyer to show a “wanton or reckless disregard ” of the victim’s rights, and “acts which are grossly negligent and reckless.” Giblin v. Murphy, 73 NY2d 769, 772 (1998)
In the state of New York, a dog can be described as vicious even if the current case is the first time that the dog has ever bitten anyone. That is “if” the complainant can show that the dog had exhibited signs of being vicious short of actually biting anyone prior to the dog bite that is in question. Some of the signs that the dog could exhibit to demonstrate viciousness would be growling at people, snarling at people, or just showing its teeth in an aggressive manner in the presence of people. Of course, a previous incident of actual biting is demonstrative of viciousness as well. Some other indicators that the Court will take in to account are things like a “Beware of Dog” sign. A “Beware of Dog” sign demonstrates a certain knowledge of the dog owner that his or her dog is likely to be vicious even if it has never bitten anyone before.
The applicable standard in these cases in New York is whether the dog owner had any knowledge of the dog’s tendency to bite or otherwise be vicious prior to the attack on the victim. In this case, Oreo’s owners claimed that they had no knowledge of any prior attacks before the attack at the party. This claim was made in spite of the fact that the owner had written an article in 1998, three years before this attack, satirizing the first attack on the UPS driver. Since, that article shows no doubt that the owners were aware of one of the previous biting incidents it can be assumed that they were aware of the other ones. Their awareness is demonstrated by their own actions following one biting incident. Oreo’s owners paid one of the victims one hundred dollars. That victim did not file a police report.
On the day of the party, Oreo’s owners claim that they put him in a back bedroom and he must have escaped. The Courts decision is that Oreo’s owners acted with wanton disregard for the safety of others. In this case, the others referred to by law are actually their own friends who attended the party, by allowing Oreo to run loose among the guests. It is further demonstrated by the satirical article written by Oreo’s owner making light of the viciousness of their dog and inferring in that article that they intended to ignore any steps to protect friends, family and the public from this dog. An additional circumstance that points to the fact that the owner had knowledge of what Oreo was capable of was the $100.00 check that he wrote to smooth over one of Oreo’s victims so that they would not report the incident.
In this situation the Court acknowledges that punitive damages are most usually considered an inappropriate solution to a dog bite case, the unusual circumstances surrounding this case make punitive damages appropriate. Because of the complete disregard that Oreo’s owners have shown toward taking responsibility for their dogs egregious conduct, punitive damages is “not plainly lacking in merit.”
The court rules that the victim’s request to amend the motion to include punitive damages is approved.
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Stephen Bilkis & Associates with its New York Dog Bite Lawyers has convenient offices throughout the New York Metropolitan area including Corona, New York. Our New York Personal Injury Attorneys can provide you with advice to guide you through difficult situations. Without a New York Dog Bite Injury Attorney you could lose precious compensation to help with your medical bills and the trauma to you and your loved ones following such a frightening experience. This is true even if the Attorney for the dog owner has not adequately made its case. In addition to Personal Injury Law, Stephen Bilkis and Associates can recommend New York Criminal Lawyers who will protect your rights if you are ever arrested.