Owner challenges dog-bite suit | February 13, 2013 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - February 13, 2013

Owner challenges dog-bite suit

by Sandy Brundage

A dog rescue organization and a German shepherd owner named in a lawsuit filed over an alleged Menlo Park dog park biting incident have filed their initial responses in San Mateo County Superior Court.

According to court documents, Angela Otero said she lost part of her middle finger when she attempted to stop another dog from attacking hers at Nealon Park in Menlo Park on Nov. 6. She has sued Laurie Furman, the owner of the dog that she says bit her, and Golden Shepherd Rescue of Northern California, the organization that adopted out the dog.

Ms. Furman, represented by attorneys working for State Farm insurance, asked the court to dismiss claims for punitive damages. "... the plaintiff must plead and prove that the defendant had actual knowledge of a vicious or dangerous propensity previously demonstrated by the animal," attorney James Picker wrote, and that the defendant willfully let the dog off leash in the park anyway. Yet the lawsuit fails to allege any prior attacks by the dog that would have indicated a propensity to bite, he said.

"Plaintiff is essentially asserting that because of the nature of the breed, that defendant Furman knew or should have known the dog was vicious or dangerous," Mr. Picker stated in the court filing. "However, case law in this area is very clear. The fact that a dog is a certain breed (in this case a German Shepherd) does not automatically translate into prior knowledge of a vicious or dangerous propensity."

The response does not address any other aspects of the complaint. Mr. Picker was unavailable for comment; a State Farm spokesperson said the company doesn't comment on active litigation.

Lawyers representing the German shepherd rescue organization asked the court to dismiss the entire complaint against the organization. Their response also alleged that Ms. Otero "was herself negligent and careless in and about the matters and events set forth in the complaint, and said negligence proximately contributed to plaintiff's alleged injuries and/or damages, if any there were," without going into specifics.

Documents posted on the rescue organization's website state that prospective owners must complete a questionnaire, interview and home visit before adopting a dog. The website notes that many of the dogs come from unknown backgrounds and the organization "cannot warrant or guarantee any dog's future behavior" as a result.

The court plans to hear argument regarding the motion to dismiss the claim for punitive damages on March 6. A case conference is scheduled for May 10.


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