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Police dog attack raises liability concerns

Law enforcement and other California emergency response agencies are increasingly utilizing the unique skills of highly trained dogs to perform a number of vital duties. As dog training experts and handlers are still realizing the full potential of the animals, however, they can be confronted by the more unpredictable tendencies and/or aggressive behaviors that many dogs exhibit.

A dog-attack incident that occurred last summer raises serious questions over whom, if anyone should be held liable for injuries caused by police dogs. The incident in question happened when a 60-year-old woman was bit by an off-duty tracking dog while visiting the home of the dog’s handler, who is a sheriff’s deputy. The dog was reportedly tethered at the time of the incident, and one source suggested that the woman attempted to pet the animal before it bit her on the forearm. Skin grafts were reportedly necessary to treat the woman’s injuries.

As a result of the incident, the dog bite victim recently filed a lawsuit against the county and sheriff’s deputy over allegations that the police department is responsible for the dog’s actions even when he and the handler are off-duty. The plaintiff in the lawsuit also claimed that the defendants were aware of prior attack incidents involving the animal. According to an attorney representing the defendants, however, the plaintiff actually contributed to the incident by approaching the animal. Beyond that, the defendants argued that they are protected under governmental immunity.

Determining liability in a dog bite incident can be complex in some instances. It’s for that reason that animal attack victims and their families can speak to an experienced attorney about any questions or concerns they have about their case.

Source: Macomb Daily, “Macomb County, deputy sued for police dog’s off-duty bite,” Jameson Cook, Sep. 16, 2014

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