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Defendant Brings Motion to Reduce Jury Award in Dog Bite Case


A man testified that his opponents’ pit bull came at him at great speed, jumped on him, and attempted to bite his throat. When the dog started biting him, he thought the worst and something that he would never forget. His clothes were torn apart and bloody. He observed an open, bleeding wound in his abdomen. When the dog bit his abdomen and then his penis, the dog’s teeth sank in and stayed embedded in his pants. The man was stunned by shock at the rapid sequence of events and anxious and in pain due to the bleeding.

He was immediately admitted to the hospital, where he was examined and treated by several physicians and remained overnight, his wounds were cleaned, and he was administered with very strong antibiotics intravenously, rabies injections, and pain medication. He was transported to his home the next day with instructions to continue oral antibiotics and pain medication, and returned for follow-up examination and treatment three days later.

The medical records detailing his emergency condition and treatment were admitted without objection. Photographs of the wound to the man’s abdomen during the first month after the dog’s attack, as well as photographs of the current scars to his abdomen and penis from the dog’s attack, also were admitted without objection.

The testimony of the man, his expert physician, and the opponents’ expert physician establishes that the man suffered and continued to suffer at the time of the trial a combination of injuries that diminished his enjoyment of life. One component of these injuries is his emotional distress from the dog’s violent attack, including intense fear immediately before and during the attack, flashbacks, and an ongoing, intense phobia of dogs that causes him to avoid all dogs. Another element is his nightmares, frequent at first, continuing less frequently, and causing fitful sleep, lost sleep, and consequent fatigue.

The further physical elements of the man’s pain and suffering derive from the bites themselves, to both his abdomen and his penis. The raised scar and nerve damage to his penis cause both pain and loss of sensation and consequent sexual dysfunction, which was total for several months following the attack and reduced his sexual functioning permanently. These physical consequences in turn exacerbate his emotional anxiety, feelings of inadequacy, and lost self-esteem in his line of work, intimate relations, and sexual performance.

The puncture wounds to the man’s abdomen did not close for approximately three months. During that period he experienced a great deal of pain and pus oozing from the wounds to both his abdomen and his penis. A taxi driver by trade, he attempted to drive, but was unable to endure the pinching pain and remained at home for five to six months. His work was important to him, part of his identity, self-esteem, and dignity, evidenced by the long hours he devoted to his work and satisfaction he derived from the services he rendered before the dog’s attack. Although he eventually returned to work, he lost his desire to work and gratification from that work, evidenced by his reduced hours. In addition to physical pain and limitations from the abdominal wounds, he suffered mental and emotional anguish and an enhanced loss of enjoyment in life from his lost desire to work and lost satisfaction in his work.

A plastic surgeon and rehabilitative and reconstructive surgery expert examines and treats patients in a clinic, performs plastic surgeries, and teaches plastic surgeons. He has treated hundreds of dog bites, continuing routinely in his current practice, so other physicians consult with him regarding his opinions in such cases. The plastic surgeon expert testified that dog bites are the worst and dirtiest bites except human bites. A dog bite is a contaminating wound and there are lots of bacteria in a dog’s mouth. The bacteria get under the skin and it’s a perfect breeding ground for them.

For these reasons, the man’s dog bites were not stitched and closed, but were left open to drain out. Because the dog does not just bite, but bites and then tears, the lacerations are jagged holes and do not heal as well as straight lacerations from a knife or piece of glass. Unlike straight lacerations, multiple puncture wounds from dog bites caused crushing injuries that damage structures below the skin and leave dents or divots under the skin.

The photographs of the wound to the man’s abdomen during the first month after the dog’s attack show the pattern of the dog’s teeth. The dog’s upper jaw alone was approximately 4.5 inches wide. The dog got a good grip and a good piece of him, as shown by the puncture wounds from each tooth that cut through all the layers of skin and broke the blood vessels underneath. The vertical lines extending from the teeth marks show that the dog grabbed the man, then let go a little, and went for a better bite in another area. The dog’s teeth slid down the man’s skin to the second area leaving a track mark. The bites caused damage far beyond where they penetrated, as shown by the large surrounding black and blue area.

When the man returned to the hospital, he exhibited a pool of blood from internal bleeding collected under his skin in his lower right abdomen. He was in pain and suffered from nausea and diarrhea. When the dog bites penetrated into the man’s blood vessels, the bacterial infection from the bites spread from the wound sites to his blood stream, which increased the wounds’ size and the loss of tissue and inhibited healing.

The penis has very little fat and consequently very little cushioning against a puncture wound from an external force. The skin on the penis is extremely thin, with the nerves directly underneath, so a puncture easily penetrates to damage them. The photograph of the current scars to the man’s penis from the dog’s attack shows not just a crush injury to his skin, but damage underneath and thus to his nerves there.

Upon the plastic surgeon’s examination two months before the trial, he found the man, at age 39 years, still suffering from pain in his abdomen, numbness along his penis, erectile dysfunction, fear of dogs, and associated depression. The scar on his lower right abdomen was hyper-pigmented, with thickness under the skin extending wider than the scar itself. Both the scar and the wider area were painful upon palpation. His findings regarding the scar and pigmentation on the man’s penis were consistent with the photograph, showing decreased pigmentation and a raised, thick scar along the shaft.

The plastic surgeon attributed the man’s loss of ability to maintain an erection during sexual intercourse to both physiological and psychological causes. His nerve damage causes his numbness and loss of sensation. His scar tissue directly below the skin, whether in the nerves or not, causes his pain, as do neuromas, small knots in the middle of the nerves formed when damaged nerves grow back. The neuromas are treatable only by excising them, which entails cutting the nerves, causing further numbness, and hence is contraindicated in this area of the body.

The man’s loss of sensation and pain during sexual intercourse are enough to cause him to lose his erection. The physiological causes, however, in turn trigger memories of the dog’s attack and the man’s fear of dogs. These mental and emotional distractions compound the man’s inability to maintain an erection.

The numbness and pain and consequent difficulties in functioning in both of the man’s abdomen and his penis are permanent conditions. The man’s phobia of dogs and depression due to the physical consequences and memories of the dog’s attack were products of that attack and are also permanent. In the hundreds of dog bites that the plastic surgeon had treated, a permanent, intense fear of dogs is a common effect.

The evidence of the man’s past and future pain and suffering not only concerned a unique combination of injuries with unique effects; the evidence also uniformly weighed in his favor; the opponents presented no evidence controverting evidence of his pain and suffering.

It is incumbent on the opponents, in seeking to reduce the jury’s award, to cite verdicts, including their fate on appeal, that assess injuries, similar to the man’s, experienced for comparable periods. While the awards that the opponents cite may shed further light on the factors to be considered in assessing reasonable compensation, the circumstances producing the awards do not delineate the limits of compensation for injuries that parallel the man’s suffering. None of the awards or any other reported awards, although they involved superficially factual similarities to the man’s injuries, include all or even most of the man’s various combined injuries, with such extensive effects on the particular individual.

When an appellate decision simply affirms an award and does not specifically determine whether it is excessive, it is not a useful benchmark. Moreover, when the decision does not reveal the pertinent evidence, the court may not simply accept the opponents’ rendition, without any citation.

Tenderness from the surgery prevented the man’s sexual relations for two months. The only injury other than pain upon an erection was anxiety concerning intercourse. The evidence reviewed reveals no actual difficulty with intercourse or intimacy after the initial two months. The decision emphasizes the lack of residual injuries; instead, a corrective procedure immediately following the vasectomy achieved its intended result: normal genitalia and the absence of any complaints by the man regarding pain or other problems upon subsequent physical examinations.

That award, then, was principally for two months of pain and suffering, limited to the genital area and interrupted sexual activity. The reduced award of $180,000 fails to account not only for the different venue and 15 years of inflation, but also for the 13 years of the man’s vastly broader and deeper pain and suffering.

In contrast, the events surrounding the man’s initial injuries caused intense emotional distress and continuing fear of all dogs, flashbacks, nightmares, loss of sleep, and pain and scarring in two areas. The effects in turn impaired his ability to engage in and enjoy his livelihood, any activities involving exposure of his abdomen, and intimacy, as well as his sexual functioning. Viewed in this light, $160,000 for the first year following his injuries and $70,000 for each of 12 years afterward, the equivalent of his award is not excessive.

The man’s injuries were to just two areas of his body, but accounting for over 16 years of inflation, and the continuing effects on his mental condition, functioning, and appearance, his $300,000 award is not excessive in comparison. By the same benchmark, $700,000 for another 10 years of these continuing effects is reasonable.

The man presented evidence of his injuries and resulting pain and suffering, uncontroverted by his opponents. The jury credited his testimony, his plastic surgeon’s testimony, and another plastic surgeon’s testimony insofar as it corroborated and supplemented the other testimony in the man’s favor and awarded past and future damages that do not so exceed amounts supported by a fair interpretation of the evidence as to require disturbing the jury’s determination. Although the opponents characterize the man’s injuries as minimal, no medical testimony, even presented by the opponents, supports that assessment.

The jury’s $300,000 award for past pain and suffering and $700,000 award for future pain and suffering were not so excessive as to materially deviate from reasonable compensation. Given the man’s unique combination of injuries, the jury was uniquely qualified to assess his damages and set its own benchmark. Therefore the court denies the opponents’ motion to reduce the verdict.

No amount of money can compensate someone’s pain and suffering. When a person is unable to perform his duties and unable to function normally, it is his right to seek what is just. Stephen Bilkis and Associates can provide you with Bronx County Medical Malpractice Lawyers together with Bronx County Personal Injury Attorneys. You may also consult with a Bronx County Injury Lawyer or a Bronx County Spine Injury Attorney to provide you with legal representation advice.

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