MERIDEN — The city has reached a settlement agreement with a Massachusetts resident who alleged negligence by the Animal Control division after a dog attack in 2012. City officials were unable to provide the full amount of the settlement, but in July the plaintiff had offered to settle the claim for $175,000. The city has been billed for a $50,000 deductible from its insurance company for the case.
The complaint was filed in April 2014 by Massachusetts resident Michael Evans and names the city, Animal Control Officer Bryan Kline and former Animal Control Officer James Barnes. According to the lawsuit, Evans was attacked and bitten by an UNNEUTERED MALE PIT BULL/MASTIFF MIX on April 15, 2012 at the Meriden Animal Control building. Evans was interested in adopting the dog after seeing a listing for it online.
Barnes, who has since retired, brought the dog on a leash and collar into a fenced in area so Evans could inspect it, according to the lawsuit. While in the fenced area, Barnes “removed the collar and leash from the dog,” and “began to fiddle with the collar to adjust its size,” according to the lawsuit. Evans was standing nearby.
When Barnes then attempted to reapply the collar "the dog attacked and bit Mike Evans in the genitals, legs, buttocks, left hand and left arm causing puncture wounds and serious and permanent injuries, harms and losses," the lawsuit states.
The attack lasted about 20 seconds before the dog released its jaws.
The attack resulted in economic damages to Evans from the medical care needed from the incident and lost wages due to diminished earning capacity, in addition to “non-economic” damages, including “injuries to his body...” and “mental and emotional suffering and fear,” according to the lawsuit. The attack also left Evans with the “loss of ability and enjoyment with regard to sexual activity,” and “permanent injuries and losses including scars.”
The lawsuit alleges the city is responsible for Evans’ injuries due to negligence, including failing to follow proper protocols for dogs such as Baby Hippo and failing to train Barnes how to handle such dogs. The city also failed to provide a safe environment for Evans to evaluate Baby Hippo, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit states Barnes be held responsible for failing to follow city protocols and procedures while showing the dog, allowing the dog to be off leash when it was apparent it posed an imminent risk to Evans, failing to be adequately equipped to deal with the attack and failing to intervene or subdue the dog during the attack to minimize injury to Evans, among other failings.
Barnes, 70, said the attack was not his fault when reached by phone Thursday.
“I did nothing wrong, it was an accident,” Barnes said. “It was just a random fluke event and it happened at such close quarters that there was no way to really intervene the way you really need to intervene when somebody gets bit. You have to have some room to work and I didn’t have the room to work. I did the best I could. I grabbed the dog by the jowls.”
The animal was euthanized after the attack, Barnes said. A rabies test came back negative. He said he had shown the animal to a half dozen families prior to Evans without incident.
Barnes retired within a few months of the attack, but said he had planned to retire anyway. He had worked for the department for two years.
Barnes said his doctor told him not to testify in the case because he has ongoing medical problems that could be worsened by stress.
Attorney Ron Murphy, who represented Evans, said due to a confidentiality agreement he was unable to comment on the case or disclose the total amount of the settlement.
Animal Control Officer Bryan Kline declined to comment on the settlement.
City Attorney Deborah Moore said the case was handled by law firm Howd & Ludorf on behalf of the city.
“It was the insurance company that made the business decision to settle, and there was specifically no admission of liability by the city, Officer Barnes or Animal Control Officer Kline as part of the settlement," Moore said.
Unable to provide the total sum of the settlement, Moore said the city was billed a $50,000 deductible, “inclusive of the insurance attorney’s fees, costs and settlement.”