In 2005, the jury rendered a decision awarding the complainant of damagesamounting $300,000 in past pain and suffering and $700,000 in future pain and suffering over 10 years. The owner of the pit bull as opponent however moved to reduce the award on both past and future pain and suffering on the ground that it was excessive.
The testimony of the complainant, his expert physician, and the opponent’s expert physician establishes that the complainant suffered and continued to suffer at the time of the trial a combination of injuries that diminished his enjoyment of life. One component of the personal 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 and consequent fatigue.
The physical elements of the complainant’s pain and suffering obtained from the dog 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. The physical consequences in turn aggravate his emotional anxiety, feelings of inadequacy, and lost self-esteem in his line of work, intimate relations, and sexual performance.
The complainant testified that the opponent’s 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. His clothes were torn apart and became bloody. He also observed an open and 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 complainant was stunned by shock at the rapid sequence of events and anxious and in pain due to the bleeding.
The complainant immediately brought and 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 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 the complainant’s emergency condition and treatment were admitted at the proceeding without objection. The photographs of the complainant’s abdomen during the first month after the dog’s attack, as well as photographs of the current scars to the complainant’s abdomen and penis from the dog’s attack were also admitted without objection.
The puncture wounds to the complainant’s abdomen did not close for approximately three months. During the aforementioned period, he experienced a great deal of pain and pus oozing from the wounds to both his abdomen and his penis.
The complainant was a taxi driver and he attempted to drive again but he was unable to endure the pinching pain. As a result, he remained at home for five to six months.
The complainant’s surgeon testified that dog bites are the worst and dirtiest bites except human bites. A dog bite is a contaminating wound because of the bacteria in a dog’s mouth. For that reason, the complainant’s dog bites were not stitched and closed, but were left open to drain out.
When the complainant 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 complainant’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.
Based on records, 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 complainant’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 complainants surgeon’s examination two months before the proceeding, he found out that the complainant still suffers 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. The complainant surgeon’s findings regarding the scar and pigmentation on the complainant’s penis were consistent with the photograph, showing decreased pigmentation and a raised, thick scar along the shaft.
The complainant’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 complainant’s fear of dogs. The mental and emotional distractions compound the complainant’s inability to maintain an erection.
The opponent’s expert was also a plastic and reconstructive surgeon. Even if he has less experienced with dog bites, he supplemented the first surgeon’s testimony. When the opponent’s expert examined the complainant, he found eight vertical parallel scars on the complainant’s abdomen, at least one of which was hard. The abdominal scars caused the complainant deep pain and discomfort, particularly when touched or when he moved that part of his body. He was self-conscious and became upset about the scars on both his abdomen and his penis in intimate situations and when exposing those parts of his body.
The opponent’s expert also described how the tubes in the penis that permit it to become erect are very close to the surface where they are susceptible to damage, and if nerve damage does not heal within a year, the injury is permanent. He corroborated that the complainant’s pain and loss of sensation in his penis disrupted sexual functioning. The complainant’s experienced difficulty achieving an erection because his penis would start hurting.
The opponent’s expert pointed out that a plastic surgeon encounters the psychological aspects of injuries that alter patients’ appearance or functioning.
Consequently, the complainant presented evidence of his injuries and resulting pain and suffering uncontroverted by the opponent. The jury credited his testimony, the surgeon’s testimony, and the opponent’s expert’s testimony insofar as it corroborated and supplemented the other testimony in the complainant’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 owner of the pitbull now characterizes the complainant’s injuries as minimal, no medical testimony, even presented by the opponent, supports that assessment.
The court stated that 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 complainant’s unique combination of injuries, the jury was uniquely qualified to assess his damages and set its own benchmark. Therefore the court denies the opponent’s motion to reduce the award.