“It was a nightmare.”
“You could see the terror on his face.”
"It was dogs and blood.”
This is how witnesses described an incident in which a California man was mauled to death by a pack of dogs in Fresno County.
Let’s take a closer look at what happened and whether the man’s family has any legal recourse following this tragic California dog bite accident.
What happened to Richard Barry?
Richard Barry, a 59-year-old California resident, affectionately known as “Hutch,” was walking along Balboa Street in Selma, California, when he was suddenly attacked by five English bulldogs.
Bulldogs get their name due to the breed’s historical connection with “bullbaiting,” a popular sport in medieval Europe that’s now illegal.
Barry’s brother and sister-in-law witnessed the attack. Barry’s brother suffers from Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and is unable to walk, but Barry’s sister courageously grabbed a bat from a bystander and attempted to separate the bulldogs.
Officers soon arrived on the scene and tased the dogs, but the taser guns only seemed to anger the dogs. Finally, animal control officers were able to gain control of the dogs.
Barry was rushed to a hospital but died soon after as a result of blood loss.
All five dogs also died following the attack. An autopsy revealed that four of the dogs suffered heat strokes and one of the dogs died as a result of strangulation.
Who owned the dogs that killed Richard Barry?
A subsequent investigation found that the five bulldogs had escaped from Victor Carranza’s home, which was located less than a block from where Richard was attacked.
Victor was at work at the time of the incident. When he returned home, he found that his front door was damaged and the doorknob was in the locked position despite the door being cracked open. Victor believes someone might have broken into his home and allowed the dogs to escape.
Victor expressed sympathy in an interview three weeks after the attack and was quick to point out that his dogs had never exhibited any aggressive behavior prior to the attack.
“My dogs weren’t vicious,” said Carranza. “They were loving. We loved them like family members–they were treated like family members. I would take the dogs wherever I could, whenever I could.”
Are dog bites common in California?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the United States, and about 1 in 5 dog bite victims require medical attention.
Unfortunately for Californians, The Golden State leads the nation with respect to the number of dog bites reported each year. Dog bites are particularly common in Los Angeles, where more than 40 percent of households have at least one dog.
Here are some reasons why a dog may bite a human:
- The dog feels threatened
- The dog is hurt or not feeling well
- The dog is afraid
- The dog is ordered or encouraged to attack
- The dog is attempting to play
- The dog is attempting to herd the victim
California dog bite laws
California is a strict liability state when it comes to dog bites. In short, this means a dog owner is liable for a dog bite regardless of whether or not the dog has displayed aggressive or violent tendencies in the past.
What does this mean for the family or Richard Barry?
The family members of Richard Barry can file a wrongful death lawsuit against Victor Carranza (the owner of the five English Bulldogs) even though Richard’s dogs never displayed any aggressive or violent behavior prior to the attack.
In California dog bite cases, the two main defenses are:
- The dog bite victim provoked the dog
- The dog bite victim was trespassing
It doesn’t appear, based on the initial facts of this case, that Victor will be able to successfully raise either of these defenses.
In addition to a civil lawsuit filed by a dog bite victim, a dog owner may face criminal charges if the dog bite occurred while the dog was:
- At large (i.e., not under the control of the owner), and
- The owner knew their dog was prone to “mischievous” behavior.
The owner could be charged with a felony if the dog bite victim was killed as a result of the bite and a misdemeanor if the victim suffered non-fatal injuries.
What damages are available in a California dog bite case?
- Medical expenses
- Property damage
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering (emotional distress)
Families of people who are killed by a dog bite may recover the following types of damages:
- The financial support the decedent would have contributed to the family member (this requires the jury to estimate the decedent’s life expectancy and earning power);
- The loss of gifts or benefits the family member would have received from the decedent;
- Funeral and burial expenses; and
- The loss of love, companionship, care, assistance, protection, affection, and moral support provided by the decedent.
Statute of limitations for dog bite lawsuits in California
California limits the amount of time you have to file a dog bite lawsuit. You typically have 2 years from the date you’re bitten by a dog to file a lawsuit. If you fail to file a lawsuit within the 2-year statute of limitations, your claim will be forever barred.
Dog bites are not uncommon in California, and neither are dog bite lawsuits. If you or a loved one has been bitten by a dog in The Golden State, it’s a good idea to meet with a dog bite attorney. Initial consultations at MVP Accidents Attorneys are always FREE.