Do not give up if Animal Control or another source tells you that the dog never bit anyone before! The dog might be a killer, like the dogs in the Diane Whipple case. Over 10 people testified at the Grand Jury that those dogs had attacked them, but nobody ever complained to the police, animal control or the landlord!
Especially in cases of unprovoked attack, it is very often the case that the attacking dog has previoiusly done something similar. Either the dog has attacked someone before, or has behaved as if it wanted to -- in other words, it exhibited the dangerous propensity to bite, putting the dog owner on notice, and laying the foundation for liability on the part of the owner or keeper.
Assume that the dog that bit in your case has bitten someone else. Keep looking for that other victim.
Here is a blueprint for the investigation of attacking dogs:
People who should be interviewed:
- Breeder of the dogs.Trainer of the dogs (obedience, agility, protection, service and aggression).
- Behaviorist consulted in connection with the dogs.
- Former owners of the dogs.
- Mail carriers who deliver mail to the residence of the dogs, including the supervisors.
- UPS deliverymen who pick up and deliver packages to the residence of the dogs.
- Gas company workers who provided services at the residence of the dogs.
- Water company workers who provided services at the residence of the dogs.
- Electrical company workers who provided services at the residence of the dogs.
- Telephone company workers who provided services at the residence of the dogs.
- Heating and plumbing company workers who provided services at the residence of the dogs.
- Gardeners who provided services at the residence of the dogs and each adjacent residence north, west, east and south.
- Tree trimmers who provided services at the residence of the dogs and each adjacent residence north, west, east and south.
- Neighbors on each side of the residence of the dogs, behind the residence (on the next block), and across the street.
- Baby sitter.
- Pet sitter or dog sitter.
- Dog walker.
- Kennel where the dogs were boarded.
- Homeowners association. There may be numerous complaints on record about these dogs.
- Police officers, especially patrol officers.
- Private patrol officers, security guards and employees of security company, including supervisors.
- Veterinarian and staff.
- Animal hospital and staff.
- Animal emergency facility and staff.
- Dog groomer.
- Other people who walk dogs in the same neighborhood or the local park or dog park.
Here are the documents that should be obtained:
- Animal control department records.Police department records.
- Post office notices that the dogs (or any of them) are dangerous and mail will not be delivered.
- Complaints to homeowners association.
- Complaints to private patrol company or security company.
- Records of veterinarians and staff.
- Lawsuits pertaining to injuries inflicted by the dogs (or any of them).
- Records of action taken to obtain a court determination, or administrative determination, that the dogs (or any of them) were dangerous, vicious, or overly aggressive toward people.
- Insurance company communications pertaining to prior claims against dog owner based on dog-inflicted injuries.
- Kennel records where dogs (or any of them) were boarded.
- Registration with the American Kennel Club.
- Receipts and credit card statements for payment for food, shelter, toys, cages, veterinary care, boarding, registration, licensing, training, consultation with behaviorist.
- If at any time any third party filed a "Petition To Determine If Dog Is Potentially Dangerous Or Vicious (Menacing Dog)," with respect to the dogs, the following documents in connection with that proceeding:
a. "Petition To Determine If Dog Is Potentially Dangerous Or Vicious (Menacing Dog)"
b. "Notice of Hearing (Menacing Dog)"
c. "Order After Hearing (Menacing Dog)"
- If at any time any third party filed a lawsuit in which it was alleged that the dogs (or any of them) injured any person in any manner, whether by biting that person, negligence, or a dangerous propensity, the following documents in connection with that lawsuit:
b. Each and every Amended Complaint;
c. Agreement of settlement, by whatever name it was called;
d. Release of claims or causes of action;
f. Each and every transcript of testimony given under oath in connection with that lawsuit.
- Each and every written letter, note, memo or other writing, or copy thereof, in which any party or third person described or alleged any occurrence of:
a. An injury to person or property purportedly caused by the dogs;
b. Any purported behavior or misbehavior of the dogs;
c. The incident complained of in this lawsuit;
d. Statements made by the victim or parents of the victim;
e. Statements made by any defendant;
f. Statements made by any person claiming to have knowledge about the incident or any issue in the lawsuit.
Investigating the attacking dog is not essential in most cases. This is because most cases are against the owner of the dog (not anyone else), and most states say that a dog owner is strictly liable for dog bite injuries regardless of whether the dog ever bit anyone previously.
However, the investigation is necessary if someone has suggested that the victim provoked the attack, the victim needs to sue another party, such as the landlord, or if the attack happened in a "one bite" state. A third of the states are so-called "one bite" states, meaning that they require that the victim prove that the dog bit someone before biting the victim, or exhibited a dangerous propensity to bite humans.
The history is essential when an objective is to have the dog removed or destroyed, recover punitive damages against the dog owner or caretaker of the dog, or criminally prosecute the dog owner or caretaker.
There are other unusual circumstances where the history of the dog is important, if not essential, to bringing a claim for damages. For example, if a claim is going to be litigated, and the litigation is going to proceed all the way to a trial, the victim's case is enhanced by proof that the dog either had a history of dangerousness, or was sick, injured, neglected, untrained, unsocialized, etc. The history would support the victim's assertion that the bite was unprovoked, and might also cause the jury to dislike the defendant if he was responsible for the dog's ill health.
Investigation also is required when the defendant or the authorities deny that the attack was by a dog in the first place. There is a bias that makes people reluctant to blame dogs even when the victim states that the attacking animals were dogs. See Colleen Lynn, Persistent 'Wild Animal' Theory Finally Derailed - Elderly Man Was Killed by a Pack of Wild Dogs in 2015.
The investigation should be handled by an attorney or investigator with experience in dog bite litigation.