Dog Bite Case Against Animal Control Department Brings 6-Figure Settlement

Jennifer Lowe, 21, was killed by clearly vicious pit bulls owned by a male friend. The dogs were constantly at large. In one incident, they chased a police car and bit it, leaving teeth marks on it. In another, a police officer had to fire his handgun to stop from being attacked (he missed the dog but it ran away from him). A church and a school bus stop were located one block from the dog owner’s mobile home, so it was completely unacceptable to allow the animals free access to the street. 

For that reason, the dogs had been declared dangerous by animal control. Nevertheless, the agency gave them back to the owner, with an order that he was required to cage them. One week prior to Jennifer’s death, the animal control officer arrived to check on the dogs. Once again, however, they were at large, and to make things worse, the cage had not been built. As the officer was approaching the house, the pit bulls actually chased her back into her truck. Despite this, she failed to confiscate them.

Jennifer was killed in the most horrible mauling one could imagine. She was inside the dog owner’s mobile home, and was screaming for help for thirty minutes. During that time, a neighbor made 3 calls to 911. The assignment (“a woman is being attacked and is screaming for help”) went out to two deputy sheriffs. Incredibly, they decided to drive to Taco Bell and eat lunch, and after that, the lead deputy gassed up his car.

“Jennifer was literally left to the dogs,” Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips stated. The deputies took 28 minutes to get to her. When they arrived on the scene, the pit bulls were in such a savage frenzy that the cops had to shoot at them in self-defense. Jennifer was still alive, but mauled almost beyond recognition. She died during surgery about an hour later.

“I accepted the case because of the painful and lonely way that Jennifer died,” Phillips said. But there was more to it than that. “For years I have been warning police and animal control departments that you can’t allow dangerous dogs to control our streets while, at the same time, you prosecute residents who kill vicious dogs to save themselves or their kids.”

“It is clearly unjust for the authorities to be claiming the exclusive right to protect the public from vicious dogs, while at the same time allowing such dogs to run wild, and then prosecuting desperate residents who must take action to protect themselves from dog attacks.”

Attorney Phillips teamed up with Attorney Wayne A. Ritchie, II, and filed a case against the animal control department, the sheriffs department, the dog owner and his landlady. The county attempted to have the suit thrown out, but the local judge saw that the case had merit because of the actions of the animal control officers (incredibly, the judge ruled that the deputies did nothing wrong by taking 28 minutes to get to Jennifer).

The lawsuit ended after that one court ruling. The county and Jennifer’s family entered into a mutually agreeable settlement just before Christmas 2009. Soon after, the landlady’s insurance company also settled with the family. “The Jennifer Lowe case established that negligence by animal control officers is unacceptable,” Phillips said, “and that law enforcement authorities can be made to pay for the damage they cause when they fail to take dangerous dogs off our streets.”