Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Pit Bull's Death Grip

Click on the title of this post. It will take you to an article about a teen using a pit bull as a missile here in the Northwest.

Over the years I have done my fair share of dog bite and dog mauling cases. I have photographed severe injuries, puncture holes in faces and neck, ripped flesh, grim stuff. Most of the cases involved pit bulls, though plenty of other dog breeds bite, maim and mutilate.

The pit bulls have a bite referred to as a death grip.
Once they bite down, you can't break that grip unless you have the know-how and a means to force the jaws to part. There's a stick trainers use that works, it goes in their mouth vertically during a bite. A taser also helps.

One client, a 24 year old, had neither. She knew and played with her apartment manager's pit bull for years, since it was a puppy.

One day, out of the blue, he bit her arm and wrapped his jaws around her in the death grip.
When I asked what happened next, she said the dog started smelling her, realized she was a friend, let go and skulked into the back bedroom. Joe was less fortunate.

Today's Case - Joe Vs. Pit Bull

Today's case involves a man, let's call him Joe , who was invited by his good friend Rob, to another friends house. Rob called his friend Joe to see if it was okay to bring Joe over. The friend said okay. The friend knew Joe, and Joe had been to the house before.

The house they were going to had a secure link fence all around it. There is a backyard where the family's pit bull is usually chained. Joe knew there was a pit bull at the house, he'd never seen it though, because it was always in the back of the house or in the back yard.

The pit bull's owner had the dog six years. There is a sign on the front of the fence, warning, "Beware of Dog" or something like that.

On the the day of this bite, Joe arrived at the house with his friend Rob.

There were people in the front yard. A 17 year old digging a fence post, another guy who just arrived. The neighbors, many witnesses, were all outside in their yards. It was sunny, warm. Rob opened the gate, they entered the front yard. My client, Joe, following Rob, closed the gate behind him and they all proceeded across the walkway to the steps to enter the house.

The house's owner came out on the porch, greeted the men and said "come inside".
As Joe closed the gate behind him, he saw the pit bull running from the back of the house into the front yard. Joe yelled "watch out!"
Joe said he thinks that's what triggered something in the pit bull, because the dog turned into a laser guided heat seeking missile directed at Joe.

The pit bull went for Joe's throat. Joe has a plate in his neck from a prior work injury, so he instinctively, or deliberately, blocked his throat with his right arm, his good arm (he had surgery in the left years ago). The pit bull grabbed Joes's right arm and Joe grabbed the pit bull with his left arm, got the dog in a headlock, got the dog to the ground in a wresting hold. The whole time the dog had his teeth locked in the death grip on Joe's arm.

It took five grown men to pull the dog off Joe. In the process of pulling of the dog, the dog pulled off chunks of Joe's lower arm.

I write this now after having just left Joe in his hospital bed, recovering after his second surgery to repair the tendons, nerves and muscles ripped out of his arm. One doctor said his muscles looked like ground beef. An infection set in, turned the whole arm septic, they are worried now about mersa and flesh eating bacteria.

I arrived at the hospital just as the nurse was removing his cast and bandages. The officer from Animal Control was in the hospital room too, I saw the radio sticking out of the hospital gown we were required to wear while the wound was being dressed.

Joe said he was glad I arrived while the cast and bandages were off so I could see and photograph the actual wound. It was ugly. My camera closed in on the huge, hideous holes of jagged, deep ripped skin. The camera goes so deep, it took me through the hole inside.

I travel from one corner of the hospital room with my camera to the other to establish environment. Then I focus in close-up on the pain and suffering in Joe's face.

The officer from Animal Control said he was pissed. Though he got the pit bull in quarantine after the owner put up quite a protest, they could find no cases anywhere of reported bites by this dog.

And laws in that particular city north of Seattle says if the dog is registered as a dangerous dog.... and it is in your own yard behind a closed gate... and meets legal confinement requirements/specifications... and it bites someone once.... it is not a crime and not enough to put the dog down.

Thing is, Joe tells the officer, the dog has bitten before. Mostly family members, but also some other guy who doesn't want to be known. The officer said they could find no reports of prior dog bites, or anyone to come forward.

Joe and the Animal Control officer share their anger. I take notes.
Joe wants the dog put down because, he said, there is a 3 year old girl living in the house and Joe knows that dog will get her. The Officer said he knows. He wants the dog down too. The Officer said he is an animal lover and this dog is vicious. It took two officers to get and contain the dog.

The officer said he's very p.o'd they have no longer than Saturday, two days, to find further evidence, or the dog will be sent back to his owner. The officer went through the law for Joe and Joe's wife. He said it three times until it sunk in. I watched their faces drop.

My job begins after this post. I will see if the owner of the home has homeowners insurance, which he probably does. Joe needs money for humongous medical bills, all his lost wags and pain and suffering.

The officer tells me the guy who owns the pit bull owns several properties. If he does have insurance, which is likely the case proceeds. If not, I tell Joe, we step away.

Either way, I tell him, the law firm will pay for his civil investigation. If he has insurance,
we will notify his homeowners insurance, and demand they accept liability. If there's not some kind of pit bull exclusion clause in the insurance policy, then I suspect there will still be a major fight... A.K.A. pissing contest ... between the attorneys and the insurance company.

Meantime, a pit bull sits in quarantine until Saturday awaiting freedom or execution.

And my client Joe, sits in a hospital room for the next week waiting for the infection that has developed in his wound to clear. The bite ripped all the skin and muscle off his right forearm. He is right handed and is a construction worker. He will lose his house if he can't pay the bills.

When the morphine kicks in, Joe tells me and the Animal Control Officer there is some kind of illegal activity going on in that house... he talks about a few things... marijuana... the need for privacy... and the words is, anyone who talks gets retribution.

Before I leave, I tell Joe and the Animal Control officer I will attempt to get someone to speak of another attack through the course of the civil investigation. I said people say things in civil deposition they don't feel safe saying elsewhere. And if they want to avoid deposition all they have to do is talk to me.

The Officer told me to give all the info I find out to Joe. Joe will be the conduit because of a potential inter-agency/legal conflict if information is exchanged any other way. Before he leaves, the Animal Control Officer gives me his card and tells Joe, he thinks he's got a good civil case, but is not optimistic on the criminal one.

As for the pit bull, t minus two days and counting.

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