LA Shelter Volunteer Awarded $6.8M in Dog Mauling Suit

A Los Angeles jury recently awarded $6.8 million to a local woman who volunteered at an animal shelter only to be mauled by an aggressive German shepherd. The jury found that the city’s negligence in failing to warn the volunteer about the dog resulted in the attack.

German shepherd in animal shelter

ByDani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D.

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Published on January 26, 2024

German shepherd in animal shelter

The Facts of the Case

The case arose from an incident at the North Central Animal Shelter in October 2019. The plaintiff was carrying out her volunteer duties at the shelter. She prepared to take Jaxx, an 84-pound German Shepherd, out of his enclosure. The dog attacked, latching onto the volunteer’s arm with a force that crushed bones and arteries.

During the trial, the plaintiff’s attorneys explained how the injured plaintiff had to drag herself and the dog toward the shelter’s office for assistance, as the dog refused to let go of her arm. The injured volunteer was rushed to a hospital with no blood flow to her hand, due to the damage to her forearm. Her injuries required a 37-day stay in the hospital’s intensive care unit, along with several surgeries and skin grafts to save her hand and forearm. She still has permanent damage and functional limitations, according to her attorneys.

A press release by the injured volunteer’s attorneys stated that the city admitted to failing to follow its own policies about warning volunteers about aggressive animals. The lawsuit claimed that the dog, Jaxx, had been adopted out and returned to the shelter shortly before the attack. The owner who returned Jaxx claimed that the dog had bitten someone while in the owner’s care, leaving puncture marks.

Despite these events, the plaintiff’s attorneys noted, the City of Los Angeles and LA Animal Services didn’t note that Jaxx was aggressive on his kennel card or in his computer file. If the injured plaintiff had seen a warning on Jaxx’s kennel card, she would not have taken him out alone. If a similar warning had been documented in Jaxx’s file, shelter staff would have prevented the plaintiff or any volunteer from taking the dog from his kennel.

Details of the Verdict

At trial, the jury found that the volunteer had signed a waiver before beginning her volunteer work with the North Central Animal Shelter. However, the jury also found that the City of Los Angeles acted with gross negligence.

The jury also found that the elements of California’s dog bite law were met in the case. They determined that the dog did in fact bite the volunteer, and the bite occurred while the volunteer was in a place she had a legal right to be. They determined the dog bite was a “substantial factor” in the volunteer’s injuries and that the City of Los Angeles controlled both the dog and the animal shelter where the dog bite occurred.

The jury decided that the City of Los Angeles’ negligence in failing to warn the volunteer about the dog’s aggressiveness was a “substantial factor” in the plaintiff’s injuries as well. They found that the City had enough warning and knowledge to protect the volunteer from harm but failed to do so.

The jury found that the injured plaintiff was owed over $6.8 million in damages. This number included over $304,000 for past medical expenses, $2.5 million for future medical expenses, $1.25 million for past pain and suffering, and $2.75 million for future pain and suffering. They also found that the plaintiff bore no responsibility for her own harm.

Expert Participation and Takeaways for Attorneys

This case offered an unusually clear example of a situation in which the party controlling a dog had ample resources and knowledge to prevent injuries, yet failed to do so. The injured plaintiff’s lack of information about the dog’s aggression prompted her to put herself in a situation in which harm was not only extremely likely but actually occurred.

Here, expert participation in dog behavior or management was likely less important to the outcome than expert input on the plaintiff’s injuries. Understanding the full extent of the animal attack injuries - and the limitations the plaintiff will face for the rest of her life - helped the jury quantify both her future medical expenses and her pain and suffering.

About the author

Dani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D.

Dani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D.

Dani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D., is a multifaceted legal professional with a background in insurance defense, personal injury, and medical malpractice law. She has garnered valuable experience through internships in criminal defense, enhancing her understanding of various legal sectors.

A key part of her legal journey includes serving as the Executive Note Editor of the Michigan Telecommunications and Technology Law Review. Dani graduated with a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School in 2007, after completing her B.A. in English, summa cum laude, in 2004. She is a member of the Michigan State Bar and the American Bar Association, reflecting her deep commitment to the legal profession.

Currently, Dani Alexis has channeled her legal expertise into a successful career as a freelance writer and book critic, primarily focusing on the legal and literary markets. Her writing portfolio includes articles on diverse topics such as landmark settlements in medical negligence cases, jury awards in personal injury lawsuits, and analyses of legal trial tactics. Her work not only showcases her legal acumen but also her ability to communicate complex legal issues effectively to a wider audience. Dani's blend of legal practice experience and her prowess in legal writing positions her uniquely in the intersection of law and literature.