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Court Upholds $140,000 Judgment for Dog Bite Costs, Disfigurement

It was a sad day for an Illinois couple back in 2008. Not only was their lab-husky mix Tank fatally hit by a truck, but he also severely bit their sister-in-law as he lay dying. Unfortunately, the injuries she sustained from the dog bite required multiple surgeries and left a disfiguring scar. Ultimately, she filed a dog bite claim against the couple in 2010, and it eventually went to jury trial.

According to reports, Tank escaped from the couple's home and was hit by a truck one day while the sister-in-law was visiting. The wife and sister-in-law ran outside and, when it appeared the injured dog was trying to go back out into the street, the sister-in-law grabbed Tank around the chest and dropped down, collapsing on top of him to prevent his flight.

As she tried to pull her hands from underneath the struggling, injured dog, he bit her on both hands. One bite nearly tore her thumb off, and the other left two deep puncture marks. Then, Tank died of his injuries.

Unfortunately, the damage to the sister-in-law's thumb required four surgeries, and the injuries kept her from being able to fully care for her newborn child. It also left her with a disfiguring scar, according to her lawsuit. The jury awarded her $40,000 to cover medical expenses, $50,000 for her pain and suffering, $5,000 for the disfigurement and another $45,000 for her loss of a normal life. That adds up to a substantial $140,000.

The couple appealed that verdict, arguing that the state's Animal Control Act doesn't allow dog bite claims by people who are legally "in custody" of dogs -- and that when she had thrown her arms around Tank she had become his "custodian." They also argued that the jury hadn't been properly instructed on that issue and asked for a dismissal or a new trial.

A state appeals court denied their requests. "After reviewing the argument on the merits," said the court, "we agree with plaintiff that the jury was adequately instructed and, therefore, defendants are not entitled to a new trial."

"The record shows that the instructions gave a clear and adequate picture of the applicable law and that the jury was fully, fairly, and comprehensively informed of the applicable legal principles involved in the instant case," the opinion continues. "Simply put, the jury did not believe either that plaintiff was Tank's custodian or that plaintiff's attempt to protect Tank from getting hit a second time amounted to provocation. Had defendants exercised better control over Tank, plaintiff would not be injured."

Source: The Madison-St. Clair Record, Fifth District upholds $140K jury verdict over dog bite," Bethany Krajelis, March 28, 2013

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