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Robbinsville Pit Bull Attack – Who’s Responsible? Dogs, Owner or Town?

pit-bull-attack1.jpgPeople are rarely attacked by vicious dogs, but when those attacks happen to young children or the elderly they can be deadly. Particular breeds, like pit bulls, Rottweilers, Akitas and German shepherds are publicized as being more aggressive and dangerous than other breeds. While that is probably true, there is no question that pit bulls have been bred to be aggressive and strong.

A two year old Robbinsville boy remains in critical condition after being attacked and mauled by as many as 6 pit bulls that lived at the child’s grandmother’s home. The Asheville Citizen Times reported that the incident took place around 3:15pm last Saturday at a house on North Main Street across from the Robbinsville Elementary School. Neighbors and teachers at the school reported having seen the dogs running lose in town.

Someone at the school had complained to Town officials recently when he saw the dogs running down the sidewalk after a couple of kids on bikes. In the rural town, no leash law existed to prohibit a dog owner from allowing their dog to run loose. Approximately one week prior to the attack, the Robbinsville Town Council had considered passing a leash law but failed to do so. The mayor pro tem, Bobby Smith, admitted to feeling guilty that they did not already have such a law. A simple leash law might have prevented this tragedy.

pit bull.jpgPolice shot and killed one of the pit bulls because of its extreme aggression toward the officers and another six dogs were captured by animal control. Why would any sane person have seven pit bulls living on their property? Blood sport is the most likely answer.

Police reported that the attack happened in the grandmother’s yard where the dogs were running free. The victim’s mother lived in the home as did an unidentified man.

So who’s to blame for this tragedy? The owner of the dogs? The child’s mother? The Town? Or the pit bull breed?

A report published by a division of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in September of 2000 asserted that more than one-third of the dog bite related fatalities in the US involve pit bull-type dogs. Given that this particular breed is involved in so many of the dog attacks the result in death, many people have quickly concluded that the breed is to blame. This has led many communities and cities to pass legislation regarding pit bulls. Legislation that makes owners of dangerous dogs strictly liable would be a good first step toward protecting innocent children from irresponsible dog owners. This would basically mean that if you choose to own a dangerous dog, then you are liable for whatever harm the dog causes.

If one takes the time to independently investigate these attacks, one theme seems to run consistently through almost every single attack: the dog owner did not act responsibly when it came to the dogs. Who these days allows their dog(s) to run loose across town? What town does not protect its citizens from irresponsible dog owners?

From this writer’s perspective, the blame for this attack starts with the owner of these dogs and with the Town of Robbinsville. Negligence is often defined as the failure to act reasonably. From all accounts, these dogs were well known by everyone in town because they ran loose on a regular basis, and the town knew that the dogs had the propensity to be vicious because a complaint had been made after the dogs had aggressively chased some kids down Main Street on their bicycles. This failure to restrain the dogs surpasses the garden variety negligence that is often the cause of accidents and injuries. This conduct demonstrates a much more reckless and aggravated form of negligence – what is often called gross negligence. While criminal charges should be forthcoming against the dog owner and perhaps the child’s mother, someone should be looking out for the child’s right to receive compensation from those who are responsible for this outrageous attack.

Hopefully, the person who owns the home where the attack occurred has homeowner’s insurance, as a homeowner’s policy should provide financial compensation to the child for medical care and permanent injury. A claim on behalf of the child could also be made against the Town of Robbinsville for its failure to have a leash law in place when one was clearly needed. To hold a town or state agency liable in such a case, one would have to prove gross negligence because the government is generally not liable for plain negligence under the outdated doctrine of sovereign immunity.

The first six months of this year produced 16 fatal dog attacks. The most frequent victims were young children who were killed by their parents’ own dogs. Of the 16 children killed, 11 were young children and two more were adult children of the dog owners. Family dogs killed 14 of the 16 victims. If there were this many deaths caused by dogs in this short time period, how many non-fatal dog attacks and bites do you think occurred?

Just as was reported in the CDC article above, only two breeds of dog were responsible for the overwhelming majority of all of these deaths: pit bulls (9 confirmed, 2 probable) and Rottweilers (4 confirmed). A Siberian Husky killed one child.

At Davis Law Group we know that children are the primary victims of vicious dogs. We also know that when a child is severely injured or killed by a dog, it is usually a dog that belonged to his parents. Does one parent, on behalf of their injured child, ever sue another parent ? Yes. Do grandparents, acting as guardian for the child, sue parents in these situations? Yes. Unfortunately, some parents are putting their taste for aggressive dogs ahead of the safety and well-being of their children. We must stop this madness.

If you know of a dangerous or vicious dog, contact your local animal control authorities and report the dog and its owner. In most areas, you can make such reports anonymously if you do not want to give your name. Taking the time to make such a report could save the life of a child.

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