Retrial in Morristown Dog Bite Case Returns a $850K Verdict

Retrial in Morristown Dog Bite Case Returns a $850K Verdict

On February 21, 2017, a Morris County jury returned an $850K verdict for a woman who suffered a dog bite facial injury and lumbar spine injuries in July 2012.

“We wish to express our gratitude to the Morris County jury,” stated Andrew Fraser, partner at Sparta law firm, Laddey, Clark & Ryan. “This was a very unfortunate situation and Ms. Reid will continue to suffer from the attack. We are glad the jury recognized the full extent of her injuries.”

Jennifer Reid of Denville was pet sitting her neighbor’s dog, a German Shepherd/Chow Chow mix weighing approximately 80 pounds, during the incident. As Reid was in the process of getting up to walk the dog, it jumped on her and bit her face. The dog’s weight knocked her backwards and it continued to stand on her body as she was pushed against an office chair with pad and metal backing. Reid had to punch and kick the dog off of her. The German Shepherd/Chow Chow mix had attacked two other people before the dog attacked Reid, a fact the owners failed to disclose to Reid prior to the incident.

The dog bite required plastic surgery on her face that left a permanent scar on her chin. She also suffered an injury to her lumbar spine caused by the force of the dog knocking her backwards with all of its weight on top of her. The spinal injuries required fusion surgery in 2013 at two levels with placement of interbody cages and screws. After the surgery she was diagnosed with adjacent disc disease and she is currently undergoing additional medical treatment. Doctors testified at trial that she will likely require additional surgeries at other levels in the future. Prior to the dog attack, Reid had never seen any medical provider for pain in her lower back. Mr. and Mrs. Reid demanded $285,000 to settle the case involving the permanent damage to Mrs. Reid’s spine but the defense attorney, representing the homeowner’s insurance company, decided to offer nothing to settle the case which forced them to go to trial.

During the first trial of the case in June 2015 the defense did not contest that the defendants were responsible for the scar injury or that the dog caused it. However, the defense did contest that the dog attack caused the spinal injuries. The jury made a $100k award for the facial scar but found that the dog attack did not cause the injuries to her lumbar spine. Reid’s defense attorneys, Andrew Fraser and William Thayer, both with the Sparta law firm Laddey, Clark & Ryan, moved for a new trial solely on the lumbar spine injuries because the judge had not properly instructed the jury in accordance with the law.

“The first trial judge agreed that he had made a mistake in instructing the jury and ordered a new trial solely on the lumbar spine,” states Thayer. “This has been a long arduous journey.  Prior to the second trial, the insurance company made no offer of settlement, so we were left with no options.”

In the second trial, the jury was asked only whether or not they felt the dog bite incident had caused the injury to her face and how much damage it caused to the Reid family. A different trial judge gave proper instructions and the jury found that the spinal injuries were also caused by the dog attack. It awarded $850,000 to Mr. and Mrs. Reid for the permanent damage to her lumbar spine.