Early morning on July 2, 2015, Erica Bestpitch started her routine by taking her two Chihuahuas for a walk. She was near the popular Fernhill Park in NE Portland when two aggressive dogs started coming her way. Neighbors described them as charcoal and brown colored pit bulls, although the breed is not confirmed.
Bestpitch picked up her much smaller dogs and started walking away. At that point, one of the dogs attacked her causing multiple bite wounds, some requiring stitches.
After being bitten, Bestpitch realized, “No one’s gonna help me. Like nothing – this dog’s not gonna stop unless I start screaming and neighbors come out. So I start screaming and screaming and screaming. ‘Dog attack! Help!’ And whatever else I can get out.”
Her neighbors, Dale Halvorson and Kathy Anderson were outside getting ready for work and watching their own dogs. They heard the scream and came to Bestpitch’s aid. Anderson even fought off the attacking dogs with a broom. Other neighbors came to the scene as the attacking dogs ran away.
Dog bites are unfortunately common in Portland. The city has the dubious honor of being the 11th highest for dog bites sustained by postal workers. Animal control indicates it deals with two to three cases a week with fears that this is a trend. Not only does this expose the public to danger, but dog owners who fail to follow safety protocol face liability under Oregon law.
Dog bite liability can fall under two categories. Trial attorneys will normally plead both in a lawsuit because while there can be some contradictions, it preserves the cause of action. These theories include negligence and strict liability.
Negligence is often easier to prove the dog does not need to have a “bad record.” It depends primarily on breach of duties—which are automatically proven in cases like Bestpitch’s when dogs are loose. To prove a case of negligence, the plaintiff must show:
Defendant was the owner of the dog;
Defendant failed to use reasonable care to keep the dog from attacking the plaintiff; and
Defendant realized, or should have realized, that the dog was dangerous if not kept under control.
There is also likely a cause for strict liability. This theory depends primarily on a dog’s aggressive characteristics. While negligence can apply to previously non-aggressive dogs who never attacked anyone, strict liability comes into play when dogs are inherently dangerous. Negligence or intent does not come into play with strict liability claims. Instead, the plaintiff just needs to prove:
Defendant was the owner of the dog;
The dog was more dangerous than other dogs like its breed or class;
Defendant was aware, or should have been aware, of these tendencies; and
Injuries arose from these dangerous tendencies.
In making either claim, the difficulty in the Bestpitch case is that the owner of the dogs is still being sought. Legal claims are impossible without knowing who is responsible and in the case of a strict liability theory, the owner and his/her knowledge about the dogs require deep scrutiny. Multnomah County Animal Control continues to investigate this matter so they can locate and confine the dogs before there is another attack.
What To Do?
Animal control maintains a web site about dog attacks. It not only discusses the trends but also offers tips in case people find themselves at the mercy of a dangerous dog. The agency advises that people facing aggressive dogs remain calm and never run or scream. Instead, back away slowly while not making eye contact and give the dog only a side-view to present a smaller target.
If an attack occurs, get the best description of the dog (or dogs) possible and report the incident to animal control. Medical professionals are required to report dog bite information so be prepared to give information at treatment appointments too. Since investigative skills and legal knowledge will also prove instrumental in sorting out this claim (especially when it involves an unknown owner) contact a firm of Oregon personal injury attorneys for assistance. It will make finding responsible parties and proving claims much easier.
In addition to animal control efforts, Bespitch and her neighbors posted flyers around Fernhill Park. It is the goal of that community to find the dogs’ owner so someone can be held responsible for Bestpitch’s injuries and the unnecessary fear it caused to this neighborhood.