Restoring a Young Girl’s Future After a Disfiguring Dog Attack

One family’s holiday get-together quickly turned into an emergency situation when a visitor’s dog attacked a young girl. It’s something that could happen anytime a dog is around an unfamiliar child—that much is easy enough to understand. What’s not so simple in a child injury or personal injury case, is determining how to assess the scope of the damage, and how to hold the responsible party accountable for it.

The dog bite and lasting scars

The Morrison* family—Mitchell, Gwen, and their 3-year-old daughter, Natalie—was looking forward to moving from South Carolina to northeast Ohio to live closer to family. They visited Ohio to stay with Gwen’s mother over the Christmas holiday season, but what should have been a time of celebration quickly turned tragic.

Also visiting Natalie’s grandmother were her aunt, her aunt’s boyfriend, Joe, and his dog. Like many little girls, Natalie loved dogs and asked Joe if she could pet his. Joe assured Natalie that his dog was friendly and it was safe to pet him. It turned out that he was sorely mistaken. Just as Natalie began to reach out, the dog lunged at her and bit her repeatedly.

Natalie was rushed to the hospital with serious wounds on her face, chest, shoulder, and side. More than 50 stitches were required to close the lacerations on her body.

Identifying responsibility for a personal injury

In some ways Natalie was fortunate. Despite the severity of the attack, doctors were confident that her facial lacerations would heal and leave little trace of the injury. Unfortunately, the prognosis was not as optimistic for the scars on her arm and torso, where there would be prominent disfigurement for the rest of her life.

It’s possible that the dog had a history of aggression, or he may simply have been startled, but one thing was clear: Even though the attack occurred on the grandmother’s property, it was Joe, the dog’s owner, who should be held responsible. Under Ohio law, if a dog injures someone, the dog’s owner is liable for that injury. So, after returning to South Carolina, the Morrisons hired a local attorney to pursue a personal injury action.

It just so happened that Joe held a homeowner’s insurance policy that clearly stated it would cover damage done by dogs, which qualify as property. His insurance company, not surprisingly, disagreed. It consistently thwarted any attempts made by the Morrison’s first attorney to recover on the policy. It simply refused to comply. Faced with daunting medical bills and feeling quite hopeless, the Morrisons reached out to us for help.

Ohio civil litigation attorneys succeed outside the courtroom

In this circumstance, we preferred to negotiate directly with Joe’s insurance company instead of resorting to a lawsuit and trial. Because Natalie was only 3, we did not want her to have to relive the details of the attack through depositions and courtroom testimony.

Being experienced in child injury cases, we took into consideration the special challenges that accompany this type of case: What is just compensation? How do you value the long-term effects of personal injury for someone so young? How could Natalie express—or, at her age, even be able to imagine—how such prominent body scars would impact her confidence and self-image as she grew older?

Restoring a disfigured girl’s future

Ultimately, we were able to persuade the insurance company that effects from the scars on Natalie’s body would have long-term effects that were more than just physical. We presented interviews from women who had suffered similar disfiguring injuries when they were young, to provide perspective on the emotional challenges Natalie might face as a teenager and adult. As a result, the insurance company agreed to a substantial settlement that covered Natalie’s medical expenses.

The compensation we achieved went beyond those medical expenses, as it should have. It also had to take into consideration the trauma of the event, a shock shared by the entire family, with unknown long-term effects. And because Natalie was so young, the settlement could be expected to grow substantially and provide a strong financial foundation as she approached adulthood.

In the end, we were happy to achieve results that will give Natalie and her family the best chance of healing from their experience as they navigate the effects of the attack going forward. Beyond that, we were able to send a message to the insurance company that it could and would be forced to honor the details of its policies.

If you require assistance with a child’s personal injury or wrongful death case, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Ohio civil litigation attorneys at Cooper & Elliott. We’re here to help.

*Names in this article have been changed to protect our client’s privacy.

The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.

 

One School’s Negligence Perpetuates Teacher Misconduct

As Ohio civil litigation attorneys representing injured children, we have learned that “injury” has many different forms. Sometimes wounds are obvious—in other cases, the pain is emotional and less obvious, but no less damaging to young victims.

This is especially true where parental or teacher misconduct is involved. Sometimes, the mental and emotional damage caused by the wrongdoing can be further exacerbated by shame or perceived reputational damage when the identities of victims are made public.

In the case described below, it was our responsibility to bring teacher misconduct and its harm to light—and do so without causing further harm to the victims.

A well-loved teacher crosses the line

Our firm represented the families of several young girls who had been victimized to varying degrees by their elementary school teacher, Matt Dixon*. Mr. Dixon was beloved by his students and well-respected by the school system and fellow faculty members. Fortunately (in this case), the abuse did not extend to direct sexual relations with the students. Suffice it to say that Mr. Dixon’s relationship with the girls still fell dangerously outside the realm of normal classroom interaction and his actions exceeded what would be considered acceptable behavior between a teacher and school-aged girls.

What’s more disturbing, is that these were not the first incidents of teacher misconduct Mr. Dixon had been involved in.

Avoiding the warning signs of teacher misconduct

Even in his previous position at a different school, there were accusations made against Mr. Dixon of engaging in inappropriate behavior with female students. Like many predators, he identified particularly vulnerable girls and groomed them to become increasingly receptive to his “special” attention: holding them, flattering them, bringing them to his home, and engaging in after school activities with them without parental knowledge. Once groomed, he continued personal, out-of-school relationships with the girls throughout grade school, though they were no longer his students.

For nearly a decade, Mr. Dixon thrived in the classroom despite parents’ reports of misconduct. He had an outstanding record in the classroom and was very popular among his peers and students. Because of his reputation, the school system failed to recognize the signs of his inappropriate behavior. The school’s attitude was that such an accomplished teacher would never do anything to jeopardize the well-being of his students.

Though the school was aware of these reports, it continually dismissed them and no official documentation was ever added to Mr. Dixon’s file.

A civil litigation resolution without further child injury

When we were approached by the families, we set to work immediately to resolve the issue in a way that best suited their needs, including protecting, as much as possible, the anonymity of the girls involved.

That meant first taking steps that would avoid a lengthy—and very public—lawsuit.

Once we gathered the facts of the case (including recovering video tapes of some of Mr. Dixon’s activities with the girls), we determined that the best way to protect the confidentiality of the students and their families was to negotiate directly with the school system. Instead of a day in court, the parents desired confidentially. They wanted to challenge any claims of ignorance on the part of the school system and compel it to accept responsibility for its inaction and failure to protect the children entrusted to its teachers.

We met multiple times with the superintendent, presented a list of demands, and talked through the issues of the case.

Ultimately, we were able to avoid filing a public lawsuit by negotiating a pre-suit resolution that brought about settlements between the school board and the families, and dismissal of the teacher. (He was subsequently convicted of criminal charges and is serving time in prison.) The negotiations also resulted in policy changes to the school system’s guidelines in order to more efficiently identify teacher predators and protect vulnerable students.

Protecting children’s futures

Civil litigation cases involving children require great sensitivity in terms of the long-term impact on the families and victims involved. Cases such as this one need additional care to preserve, as much as possible, the privacy of the victims.

The daughters of the families we represented were able to maintain their anonymity, remain in the same school, and resume their normal lives as children and students without being labeled as victims of sexual abuse.

The parents, meanwhile, were able to express their justifiable outrage with the school authorities, effecting changes in school policy that were necessary and reasonable.

In the end, justice was served in multiple ways. First, by protecting our clients’ children and halting their teacher’s behavior. Also, by helping to make schools safer for future students (this latter point is also therapeutic for the families whose lives had been upended by such a significant breach of trust). This multi-faceted result is the kind we strive to achieve for all our clients and their families.

If you require assistance with an injury or wrongful death case involving a child, don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re here to help.

*For the protection of the children involved, names of any participants in this case have been omitted and certain details have been withheld.

The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.

A Daycare’s Disregard for Safety Forever Changes a Little Girl’s Life

It’s every parent’s nightmare: an accident that leaves a small child physically and emotionally maimed.

When we send our children to a daycare center, we trust that the teachers and administrators in charge have taken the necessary precautions to ensure the safety and well-being of the precious little people we place in their care.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way. When an accident happens, the parents’ first concern is for the child to receive medical attention. But when the injury is serious and permanent—and when negligence is a contributing factor—the parents’ next concern is to protect the child’s future to the extent that the law provides. With so much at stake, it’s best to enlist the professional strength and support of personal injury attorneys who will fight out of a shared commitment to improve the child’s chances of experiencing a normal and healthy future.

That was the case for Jessica Edwards* and her 3-year-old daughter, Addy*.

Personal injury from a device intended for safety

The morning of the accident, Jessica dropped Addy off at her daycare center just as she did every day. But while she was at work, Jessica got the call that every parent dreads: there had been an accident; Addy was injured; please come immediately.

Jessica’s distress grew steadily and rapidly as she drove to the school. But what she discovered when she got there was worse than she could have imagined.

The children had been lining up to go outside when a large fire extinguisher was bumped off its wall hook and landed on Addy’s hand. The impact crushed one of Addy’s fingers and severed another one from her hand. The severed digit was saved on ice for possible reattachment, and Addy was rushed to the nearest emergency room.

Child injury: a lifetime of repercussions

Addy suffered great physical pain, and the damage to her hand turned out to be permanent. The physicians tried to reattach her finger, but ultimately the procedure unsuccessful.

The pain and trauma affected Addy emotionally and developmentally, transforming her from a happy, well-adjusted youngster into an anxious little girl. Following the accident, her family noticed she was acting withdrawn, and (not surprisingly) deathly afraid of fire extinguishers and ambulances.

The real source of her suffering: negligence

Jessica and Addy became our clients. And Addy’s future became, in many respects, our responsibility as child injury attorneys.

As we researched the case and filed public records requests with various governmental agencies, it became apparent that the accident and its damage should never have happened in the first place. The fire extinguisher that injured Addy had been carelessly hung on a simple J-hook. As such, it was susceptible to being dislodged without much effort or force. A heavy fire extinguisher in a daycare center should be attached, at minimum, with a strap. Or, for even more security, it should be encased in a cabinet mounted on the wall. Either of these precautions would have prevented Addy’s injury.

We spoke with fire system experts who confirmed that these additional safety precautions were relatively inexpensive. We also confirmed that the same daycare franchise had branches in other states that kept fire extinguishers encased in secure cabinets. So, why did this facility fail to practice the same safety measures? As it turned out, there was no good reason.

Personal injury attorneys seek justice and more

Determining fair compensation for damages is always a challenge for personal injury cases involving young children. How do you adequately determine the damage (and its future implications) for a life that is only beginning to unfold?

In Addy’s situation, physical rehabilitation was only the beginning of the costs that would need to be covered. Having experienced such an intense trauma at a young age, it was vital that she receive whatever therapy would be necessary throughout her development. We were able to reach a settlement with the daycare system, one that would accommodate Addy’s immediate and future needs.

Addy’s family wanted the satisfaction of knowing steps would be taken to prevent a tragedy such as Addy’s from ever being repeated. As part of the resolution, the daycare committed to a review of its fire extinguishers nationwide.  Such conditions are available only in negotiated agreements, as opposed to jury verdicts, which can only award monetary compensation. The impact of these types of commitments is widespread and ensures that something like this doesn’t happen to anyone else.

If you find yourself or a family member in a personal injury situation that calls for civil litigation, don’t hesitate to reach out to the experienced Ohio personal injury lawyers at Cooper & Elliott for legal assistance. We’re here to help.

 *Names in this article have been changed to protect our clients’ privacy.

 The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.