Americans love their dogs. There are roughly 78 million dogs in the United States, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
With so many dogs in the country, it’s not surprising that dog bites are a common occurrence. Roughly 40 fatalities occur every year as a result of dog bites. Though not all dog bites are fatal, non-fatal bites can cause significant injuries and infections. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 1 in 5 people bitten by dogs require medical attention.
When it comes to holding owners responsible when their dog bites someone, most states have adopted one of two types of liability:
- Strict liability. In states that apply strict liability, 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.
- One-bite rule. In states that apply a one-bite rule, a dog owner is only liable for a dog bite if the owner knew or should have known about their dog's violent tendencies.
In this post, we’ll take a look at five of the largest dog bite verdicts and settlements in the history of the United States.
1. David Fear and Betty Long — $20 million (California, 2016)
In a landmark verdict, a San Luis Obispo jury awarded more than $20 million to Betty Long and David Fear after they were attacked by a dog in Grover Beach.
David died shortly after the attack, while Betty Long survived, despite suffering a fractured skull, broken pelvis, shattered shoulder, and dog bites to her torso.
The dog, a Belgian Malinois named Neo, belonged to Alex Geiger, a former officer of Grover Beach, and was previously trained as a police K-9 in the Exeter Police Department. Despite the dog’s history of training and behavioral issues, Geiger bought the dog from the city of Exeter and kept him as a personal pet.
The jury found that the Exeter Police Department failed to train Geiger adequately in safely securing the retired police dog.
Authorities euthanized the Belgian Malinois following the attack.
2. Stacy Finelli — $5.6 million (Florida, 2023)
A Gainesville High teacher, Stacy Finelli, was awarded a $5.6 million verdict by a Hall County jury after being severely attacked by a Labrador/Pitbull mix belonging to her neighbors, the Steusloffs. The incident occurred when Stacy was returning misdelivered mail to her neighbors.
Stacy’s attorneys described the severity of the attack as akin to a shark attack, with the dog being a 'ticking time bomb' that exhibited signs of aggression in the past. The defense argued that the Steusloffs were not liable as they were unaware of the dog's propensity to attack. However, the judge's order noted that depositions showed the Steusloffs were present during another alleged biting incident by the dog.
Following the attack, Stacy underwent five surgeries and physical therapy, having suffered a substantial loss in her physical capabilities.
3. Julie Whipple — $1.5 million (California, 2001)
The killing of Diane Whipple by two Presa Canario dogs remains one of the most haunting crimes in San Francisco history. Diane, a lacrosse player and college coach, was attacked in the hallway outside her apartment by the dogs.
Diane suffered a total of 77 wounds to every part of her body except her scalp and bottoms of her feet. Another neighbor called 911 after hearing Whipple's screams.
The dogs' owner, Paul Schneider, was a high-ranking member of the Aryan Brotherhood serving a life sentence in prison. Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel, attorneys who had represented Paul, were keeping the dogs for their client. The dogs had a reputation for aggression in the apartment complex, and Diane had stated on numerous occasions that she was afraid of them.
Robert was charged with manslaughter, and Marjorie was charged with second-degree murder. Diane’s partner, Sharon Smith, sued the couple and received $1.5 million in damages.
4. Jason Anglero-Wyrick — $1.35 million (California, 2023)
Jason Anglero-Wyrick, a former resident of Graton, California, was awarded a $1.35 million settlement following a federal civil rights lawsuit against two sheriff’s deputies and Sonoma County. The lawsuit came after an incident in 2020 when deputies unleashed a K-9 named Vader on Jason based on an uncorroborated report of him pointing a gun at someone. No gun was ever found, and no charges were filed against Jason.
The lawsuit, filed in 2021, argued that the deputies used excessive force. Jason’s then 15-year-old daughter captured the incident on a cellphone. The settlement was reached on January 6, 2023. Despite the settlement, Jason asserted that this was not justice, but he felt compelled to accept the financial compensation for his daughters' sake. He also expressed his belief that his race and social status played a significant role in the interaction with law enforcement.
5. Jordyn Bankston — $1.125 million (Illinois, 2013)
In Illinois, a 120-pound Bullmastiff, appropriately named Kong, escaped his enclosure and attacked 15-year-old Jordyn Bankston. Eventually, the girl’s neighbor was able to separate the dog from the girl using a lit cigarette.
Jordyn sued the owner of the dog and received $1.125 million for her injuries, which required extensive plastic surgery. The settlement is the largest in Illinois state history for a dog bite case.
If you’ve suffered injuries as a result of a dog bite, you may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit. Consider reaching out to an experienced personal injury attorney in your area to discuss your case. Most initial consultations are free.