Fatal dog attack leads to manslaughter charges in California

Posted on in Premises Liability

There's a fierce debate that continues nationwide over whether some dog breeds should be automatically labeled as "dangerous." Owners of these breeds, such as pit bulls and rottweilers, maintain that whether a dog is vicious depends solely on how it is raised and treated. Although there is some truth to this notion, some breeds -- indeed, some dogs in general -- may require more supervision than others to avoid dog bites, attacks and other harmful incidents. 

The issue is front and center in the case of a San Diego, California, woman who was viciously attacked by her next-door neighbor's two pit bulls in her back yard when she went to get the morning paper last June. Although the yard was surrounded by a fence that had been reinforced with a metal gate to cover a gap in the fence between the two yards, the two dogs made it through by ripping a hole near the gate. As a result of the attack the woman's arm had to be amputated below the elbow and her left leg was amputated below the knee. Her right leg was amputated later. She died of complications from the attack Christmas Eve.

The owners of the dogs, a 40-year-old woman and her 20-year-old daughter, were ordered this week to stand trial on charges of involuntary manslaughter, owning a mischievous animal causing death and six misdemeanor code violations, which included failing to protect the public from a dangerous dog and owning a dangerous dog.

The deputy district attorney prosecuting the case said the victim's neighbors knew they owned dangerous dogs because the same pit bulls had attacked before. On Christmas Day 2010 the dogs escaped from their yard and attacked a man who was walking his puppy. The man was bitten and the puppy suffered a broken jaw.

Regardless of whether prosecutors can prove manslaughter beyond a reasonable doubt, the victim's family could have a strong case for a civil wrongful death lawsuit, especially considering the previous incident. Dog owners who know their pets have a strong propensity to attack must take equally strong precautions to avoid causing injury or death to other people and animals.

Source:, "Mom, Daughter To Stand Trial In Fatal Dog Attack," April 23, 2012

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