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Bermudez v. Hanan

Civil Court of the City of New York, Kings County

September 13, 2013

Laura M. Bermudez, Plaintiff,
Joseph Hanan, Defendant.

Unpublished Opinion

Harriet L. Thompson, J.

In this Small Claims action, the Claimant asserts the right to recover monetary damages for medical bills and related expenses that she incurred as a result of personal injuries sustained from a dog bite by a dog named Chino owned by the Defendant.

At a non-jury trial, both parties and their respective witnesses testified about the surrounding facts that precipitated the dog bite and introduced into evidence both photographic and documentary evidence as well as testimonial evidence.

The underlying facts, as presented at trial, disclosed that the Claimant's personal injuries took place at a small social event at the home of the Defendant. On February 10, 2010, the Claimant, along with more than 15 other people, were invited to the home of the Defendant for a social gathering. The event took place on the first floor of a Brooklyn brownstone. Both parties testified that the music was not too loud and none of the guests were required to shout over each other indicating a relatively relaxed atmosphere.

The Claimant testified that she mingled with other guests for a while and then entered into what appeared to be the living room area on the first floor. She observed that a large dog was sitting on the couch alone and she decided to walk over to the couch. She testified that as she walked over to the dog, she had no food in her hand with the exception of a beverage. She claimed that after she reached the couch, as she leaned over to talk to the dog, he jumped up and bit her on her face causing serious injuries to the left side and right side of her chin.

The Claimant testified that her lacerations required 30 stitches in her chin. She also testified that she underwent treatment for the wound and after it healed, she had restorative treatment in the form of plastic surgery to correct the scars on her chin. She testified that her primary doctor, Dr. Meehan treated her wounds and the plastic surgery was performed by Dr. Pittman to eradicate the scars.

The court admitted into evidence as Claimant's Exhibit "1", twenty-one (21) photographs that depict the face of the Claimant on the date of the incident and her face about one week after the incident; the photographs show deep and gaping lacerations to the right and left side of the chin of the Claimant. The Claimant subsequently had admitted into evidence as Exhibit "2" an itemized statement of the total costs and expenses that she incurred as a result of the dog bite.

Additionally, she gave this court a file that contained the supporting doctor bills, invoices, receipts and correspondence between her and an attorney about the case. The itemized list and the aforementioned documents demonstrate that the following sums where incurred by the Claimant:

ú Kings County hospital bill-$1002.43 ú Bill from Dr. Meehan-$165.00 ú Bill from Dr. Pittman-$450.00 ú Prescription Medication-$106.90 ú Miscellaneous medical supplies-$102.46 ú Transportation-$63.17 ú Loss Wages-$4500.00

The Claimant demands restitution in the sum of $6, 390.04 which exceeded the jurisdictional limits of the Small Claims Part. After a court conference, the Claimant elected to continue the trial instead of commencing a new action in the Civil Court and waived the rights to recovery of any sum exceeding $5000.00.

The Claimant further testified that she was a freelance editor for films and for some commercial projects from August 2009 to the present. She stated that Dr. Meecham, her treating physician, stated that she could not work for a period of two weeks. She claimed that since she was unable to speak to her clients, she lost significant income in the of sum of $4500.00.

The Claimant also testified that at the time of the incident, she was uninsured and had no medical coverage for the medical services that she incurred from the dog bite.

Despite the Claimant's testimony that she approached the dog while he was sitting on the couch alone, she stated that she did nothing to provoke the dog's attack. In her opinion, she did not think that the dog felt comfortable' at the party. The Claimant asserts that she is now deathly afraid of dogs as a result of this incident and feels that such a fear of dogs will be a part of her life for the rest of her life.

The Claimant called William Rick as a corroborating witness. Mr. Rick stated that the incident occurred very quickly. He was near the Claimant and then suddenly the dog acted so quickly that it was like "a burst of air"; he stated that he never heard the dog growl or even bark. He acknowledged that he was not an eye witness to the facts immediately before the incident but saw the lacerations on his friend's face from the dog bite. Once he observed the blood streaming from the Claimant's face, he ran toward the kitchen for help.

After this witness testified, the Claimant rested on her case-in-chief and claims the rights to recovery of all of the above medical expenses and income.

The Defendant, JOSEPH HANAN, testified in his case-in-chief. It is undisputed that the incident took place in the Defendant's brownstone and that the Defendant was not present in the livingroom area at the time of the incident. He stated that he was in the kitchen preparing food and speaking to other guests.

The Defendant testified that he trained Chino, a part German Shepherd, for nearly ten years, and he has never had any incident in which the dog bit or injured any person or property.

In his opinion, that is substantiated by other individuals, Chino is a "special dog".

In or about 2008, Chino was certified by the Good Dog Foundation to visit healthcare facilities as a therapy dog. He testified that the dog is a visiting volunteer for several not-for-profit agencies and participates in animal assisted therapy. He testified that Chino visits these various centers at least three to four times a week. Although the dog belonged to the Defendant's partner, Kara McEneany, he was the primary trainer of the dog.

The Defendant introduced into evidence eleven photographs (Defendant's Exhibits "1" through "11") which depict Chino with various men on the men's medical unit at the Brooklyn Development Center for Disabled Men. The photographs depict these various men holding, petting, laughing and playing with Chino at the Brooklyn Development Center.

Furthermore, the Defendant introduced into evidence Defendant's Exhibit "2, " a letter, dated July 1, 2008, from Annie Angell, Executive Trainer and Program Coordinator of the Good Dog Foundation, which certifies that Chino had successfully completed the "Good Dog Foundation Therapy Dog Training and Evaluation Course" and was "certified to ...

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