Small child attacked by pit bull. $297K. Sacramento County.

Summary

Young girl is allowed to go into pit bull's enclosure without any supervision. Dog attacks without warning.

The Case

  • Case Name: Kelton v. Madrigal
  • Court and Case Number: Sacramento County / 34-2017-00213129
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Friday, January 07, 2022
  • Date Action was Filed: Friday, May 26, 2017
  • Type of Action: Dog Bite
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Steven Gevercer
  • Plaintiffs:
    Arianna Hedding-Kelton, a minor, and her mother Jasmine Lawson
  • Defendants:
    Monica Madrigal and Oscar Madrigal
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $297,000
  • Contributory/Comparative Negligence: None.
  • Economic Damages:

    Plaintiffs did not seek economic damages, this was a non-economic damages-only case.

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    $225,000 past non-economic damages to plaintiff Arianna Hedding-Kelton and $48,000 future.

    $24,000 past non-economic damages award to plaintiff Jasmine Lawson for negligent infliction of emotional distress - bystander claim.

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 5 days
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 1 day
  • Jury Polls: 10-2 on negligence.
  • Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: Plaintiffs are seeking costs and interest as prevailing party based on CCP 998 offer issued 41 months ago; total interest approx. $101,000.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Gavrilov & Brooks by Kirill B. Tarasenko and Bryan C. Nettels, Sacramento.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Law Offices of Lynn M.Yempuku by James Olson, Sacramento.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Kenneth Sumida, M.D., plastic surgery.

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    Terry Zimmerman, M.D., plastic surgery.

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Ron Berman, canine behavior.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Richard Polsky, canine behavior.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    Plaintiffs were overnight visitors at the defendants' home. Plaintiff Arianna Kelton, then 9 years old and 57 pounds in weight, asked defendant Monica Madrigal if she could visit with the family dog, an adult male pit bull named Munch, who was in the backyard outdoor enclosure. Defendant opened the sliding glass door and let Arianna out.

    Without warning or provocation, the pit bull came up on his back legs and bit into the girl’s face and throat, his lower canine teeth puncturing the throat area near the carotid artery. Munch then pulled Arianna to the ground and began pulling her back away from the door. Arianna’s mother saw the attack taking place, ran outside, and tackled the dog.

    It took multiple adults to subdue the pit bull. The dog was almost immediately put down at the insistence of the property owner. Arianna underwent plastic surgery on her neck for the scars associated with the puncture wounds she sustained. She still has some residual scarring but never pursued psychological counseling.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That defendants were strictly liable as owners of the pit bull and that defendant Monica Madrigal individually was negligent in allowing a 9-year-old child visiting her home to be allowed into an adult male pit bull's enclosure without proper supervision and without reintroducing the child to the dog, who she had not seen in approximately six months.

    That the attack was either territorial or predatory in nature and that defendants were further negligent in adopting the dog, who was unneutered and already an adult dog by that point. Defendants admitted they knew almost nothing about the dog, except that the prior owner was pregnant and was looking to place Munch into a new home. Plaintiffs contended that the defendants were the true owners of the dog as evidenced by them having the power to overrule their tenant on the ultimate question of life or death. 

    That plaintiff suffered past damages for emotional distress, anxiety, fear of imminent death, disfigurement and loss of self-esteem as a result of the attack, and will suffer future damages, including the need for a follow-up scar revision surgery when she turns 21.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Madrigal contended that Munch was their tenant’s dog, not theirs. Further, that although the tenant was refusing to put the dog down after the attack, defendant Oscar Madrigal specifically admitted to overruling the tenant; further, that they could not be held strictly liable as they were not the dog's owner and that overruling the tenant about putting the dog down did not prove that defendants were the dog's owners.

    That Monica Madrigal was not negligent in adopting an unneutered adult male pit bull despite having no dog experience other than with a Chihuahua.

    That Monica Madrigal was not negligent in allowing a young child to be left alone in the pit bull’s enclosure without any reintroduction after having not seen the dog in months.

    Defendants' retained canine behavior expert, Dr. Polsky, testified that he disagreed with plaintiff's expert, Ron Berman, that the attack was either territorial or predatory in nature, but could not say what kind of attack it was.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Bites and puncture wounds to face, neck and throat. Additional scarring to back and rib area.

  • Emotional distress, fear of imminent death, loss of self-esteem.

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff §998 Demand: $300,000 policy limits
  • Defendant §998 Offer: $150,000

Additional Notes

Plaintiffs consistently demanded tendering of the $300,000 home owner policy. 

Liberty Mutual, defendants’ home-owner insurer, issued a $150,000 CCP 998 offer just before trial, which plaintiffs rejected. With costs and interest on a CCP 998 offer made by plaintiffs approx. 41 months ago, total verdict with costs and interest should come to about $435,000.

Disclaimer

This is not an official court document. While the publisher believes the information to be accurate, the publisher does not guarantee it and the reader is advised not to rely upon it without consulting the official court documents or the attorneys of record in this matter who are listed above.

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