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$500K jury award for boy injured in dog attack

A jury in Union County has awarded $500,000 to a boy who was left with serious facial injuries after a neighbor’s pit bull attacked him, according to an attorney for the child and his family.

Woodyard

Woodyard

The boy’s family had struggled to find a lawyer willing to take the case, because there was no insurance coverage at play and the dog in question had no prior bite history, according to Alex Woodyard of The Law Offices of William K. Goldfarb in Monroe.

Woodyard, who agreed to represent the boy in a case that would lead Woodyard to his first jury trial, initially sued the neighbor’s landlord under theories of ordinary negligence, common law strict liability and negligence per se.

To bolster the suit, he used Union County’s animal ordinance, which he said requires pet owners to keep dangerous animals in secure enclosures. But the dog in this case had been chained outside.   

“There’s case law for negligence per se in the realm of nuisance violations using county ordinances, but I haven’t found any cases where there’s been a dog attack and county ordinances have been utilized,” Woodyard said.

He argued that the dog involved in the attack had displayed aggressive behavior by snapping and growling at passersby. He also called on Charlotte-based property management expert Daryl Greenberg to testify that pit bulls are known as a dangerous breed in the industry.

Of course, not everyone considers pit bulls to be vicious, which became apparent to Woodyard when he brought the case in front of focus groups. He said he learned that he couldn’t “go in there and just attack the breed of dog.”

“The theory of my case was this was a dog that was neglected and it was dangerous not just because of its breed but because it was chained up outside during inclement weather and wasn’t cared for,” he said.

During the focus group sessions, Woodyard also realized that he needed to keep the dog’s two owners in the suit. He sued them for ordinary negligence and strict liability. He also named the landlord’s wife as a defendant under a common business venture agency theory of liability—in other words, she profited from her husband’s business.

After receiving notice of the suit, the landlord transferred the properties he owned into his wife’s name and his name, which would have prevented the boy’s family from collecting a judgment that was solely against the landlord, Woodyard said.

He added that the landlord also sold the residence where the attack occurred and put several other properties up for sale. But Woodyard said he was able to get a temporary restraining order to stop further sales and void past sales.

“Then we had some meat in the game,” he said, referring to the landlord’s assets. The landlord later offered to give the boy’s family two houses to settle the case, but the properties had mortgages, according to Woodyard.

The jury deliberated for about four hours before awarding the boy and his family $500,000 in April. All the defendants are jointly and severally liable for the damages. They’re also on the hook for more than $100,000 in post-judgment interest.

Attempts to speak with the defendants’ attorney, Joe McCollum of Clark, Griffin & McCollum in Monroe, were unsuccessful.

The boy at the center of the case is now 10 and “doing really well,” Woodyard said. “He has some scarring on his face, but his attitude is positive.”

Follow Phillip Bantz on Twitter @NCLWBantz

VERDICT REPORT – DOG ATTACK

Amount: $500,000

Injuries alleged: Facial lacerations requiring surgery

Case name: Matthew Smith, guardian ad litem for minor v. C. Alexander Rorie, et al.

Court: Union County Superior Court

Case No.: 15-CVS-02039

Judge: Christopher Bragg

Date of verdict: April 39

Demand: $225,000

Highest offer: Two properties with encumbrances

Most helpful expert: Daryl Greenberg, property management expert in Charlotte

Attorney for plaintiffs: Alex Woodyard of The Law Offices of William K. Goldfarb in Monroe

Attorney for defendants: Joe McCollum of Clark, Griffin & McCollum in Monroe

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