Officers Cleared in Suit
UPDATE 03/06/09: A jury decided against awarding any money to Dorothy Sullivan's beneficiaries in the wrongful death suit filed against county employees. The suit, filed in 2007 against four Spotsylvania County animal control officers, claimed gross negligence by the officers in the time leading up to Sullivan's killing by a pack of pit bulls in March of 2005.
Deanna Large, who owned the dogs, was convicted later that year of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to three years in prison. Large became the first person in Virginia convicted in a case involving a pet killing a person. The criminal case set a legal precedent for the state. On the civil side, however, jurors deliberated for about three hours Thursday before returning a verdict in favor of the defense. In doing so, they denied awarding money to the family.
12/17/07: Dorothy Sullivan's Family Continues in Court
Spotsylvania, VA - The family of a woman fatally mauled by pit bulls in 2005 can continue a $5 million lawsuit against five Spotsylvania County Animal Control employees. Substitute Judge George Tidy ruled in Spotsylvania Circuit Court that the family of Dorothy Sullivan can sue the county "employees" but must drop the county and the Animal Control Department as defendants in its lawsuit. The judge did not explain his decision.
Three pit bulls killed Sullivan, 82, and her pet Shih Tzu, Buttons, in Partlow on March 8, 2005. Deanna Large, 39, who owned the dogs, is serving three years in prison for involuntary manslaughter. The Virginia Court of Appeals upheld the conviction Oct. 30. Sullivan's estate also believes that Animal Control employees are to blame. The estate charges that the employees created a nuisance by not capturing the dogs, and were negligent in their actions.
Jim H. Guynn, an attorney representing the county, successfully argued that the Animal Control Department is a "creature of an ordinance" that cannot be sued. He also was able to have the county removed from the lawsuit by arguing the shield of sovereign immunity, a doctrine that makes governments immune from lawsuits when performing government duties. He said that counties are considered "arms of the state" and have the same protection.
Thomas E. Albro, who represents Sullivan's family, argued that the defense of sovereign immunity cannot be used if there is negligence. He recounted numerous allegations that Animal Control employees knew the dogs ran loose and had attacked neighbors and killed pets, that the dogs were not licensed and that Large was operating an unlicensed kennel. Albro said Animal Control employees did very little to capture the dogs or punish Large.
11/08/08: Paula Ybarra, Dog Attack Victim, Wins Settlement from Minneapolis
08/23/08: Suing Animal Control Agencies or Municipalities After a Serious Dog Attack