Argelia Alvarado was critically injured by a pit bull whose bite history was not disclosed.
Complaint Against City
Los Angeles, CA - On August 5, 2021, dog bite attorney Kenneth Phillips filed a Complaint in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of Argelia Alvarado and her husband Jose. Both of Argelia's arms were savaged in a vicious attack by a pit bull adopted from Los Angeles Animal Services. One arm had to be amputated almost to her shoulder. A police officer who was at the scene said her right arm was shredded, "like it went through a meat grinder" and the bones were broken.
The officer also described her left arm, which "had multiple bite wounds with fatty tissue oozing out of the lacerations." The officer stated in the bite report that the "fire department had to use the fire hose on full blast to keep the dog away" as they tried to provide emergency medical treatment. The arriving animal control officer said the scene was a bloodbath. A copious amount of blood "painted the entire rear patio and much of the rear wall of the house and table on the patio."
The Plaintiffs are now seeking $21 million in damages from the city of Los Angeles. Specifically, the agency involved, Los Angeles Animal Services, failed to disclose the bite history of this pit bull to the adopter, breaking state law; the agency failed to disclose the nature and extent of injuries of the previous bite, which involved the dog inflicting severe injuries to both of the victim's arms; and supervisors failed to make a considered decision about who, if anyone, could adopt this dog.
On May 25, 2020 a male pit bull (American bully variation) was brought into the city shelter after it attacked a jogger, biting both of his arms. "The attack was unprovoked, the dog acted in an aggressive and vicious manner, and the injuries it inflicted were severe," states the Complaint. The owner of the pit bull was unknown. The dog was put into a rabies quarantine that day and named O'Gee. The details of the attack on the jogger were then entered into the shelter's records.
On June 13, a supervisor at the shelter approved putting O'Gee into the main shelter population. On June 14, a different shelter supervisor approved adopting out O'Gee to "regular adopters," meaning the public. Next the shelter publicized the availability of O'Gee for adoption by posting the dog's description, photographs, and videos on social media with no mention of the attack on the jogger, the circumstances related to the bites or the extent of injuries caused by the bites.
On or about June 20, 2020, Brent Alvarado, a son of the Plaintiffs, adopted O'Gee while accompanied by his 14-year old daughter. Nobody informed him about the circumstances of O'Gee's attack on the jogger, the extent of injuries O'Gee inflicted him, or the absence of legal justification for the attack. On September 26, 2020, 99 days after Brent took possession of O'Gee, it brutally attacked his mother. There was neither warning or provocation for the attack.
"The attack lasted at least 20 minutes," states the Complaint. It "was a savage mauling in which both of Plaintiff Argelia's arms were brutally shredded, with her right arm broken into pieces and almost entirely severed above her elbow." An animal control officer captured O'Gee after the mauling and brought it back to the city shelter. The shelter euthanized the dog that same day. Brent had pleaded with the shelter to euthanize the dog so this can't "happen to anyone else."
The Complaint has four causes of action. Three by Argelia and one by Jose. This is the first known lawsuit, to our knowledge, to be based on the mandatory statutory duty of any shelter or rescue in California to provide an adopter with detailed, written information about a dog's known bite history and the circumstances of the bite(s). The agency must also obtain a signed acknowledgement from the person to whom the dog is given or sold to stating this information has been provided.
Only two states have passed mandatory bite disclosure laws. Virginia was the first in 2018, after a rescue failed to disclose a dog's bite history to the adopter and that dog killed a woman hours later. In 2019, California passed a similar law. Thus, the difficulty of suing government agencies due to governmental immunity -- one must show a breach of mandatory duty or meet a special exception -- has been eased in these states when failure to disclose a dog's bite history occurs.
The first cause of action is cut-and-dry, "Noncompliance with the state of California’s mandatory bite disclosure law." The City cannot cry "immunity" for breaking California state law. "California Food & Agricultural Code section 30526 created a mandatory duty on the part of Defendant City which it failed to discharge," states the Complaint, "making Defendant City liable for Plaintiff Argelia's injuries pursuant to Government Code section 815.6." Furthermore, the Complaint states:
25. California Food & Agricultural Code section 30526 was designed to prevent the very harm that Plaintiff Argelia sustained.
26. Plaintiff Argelia was a member of the class of persons that the law alleged herein was intended to protect. It was foreseeable that adopting-out a dog having a known bite history to one member of a family without providing the information set forth in California Food & Agricultural Code section 30526 subsection (b) would pose a risk of bodily injuries to not just the adopter but also other members of the family residing with the adopter.
27. The violation alleged herein was the sole proximate cause of Plaintiff Argelia’s injuries, losses and damages as alleged in this Complaint.
The second and third causes of action, "Failure to warn an adopter of a dog’s known bite history" and "Negligent failure to evaluate whether a dog was adoptable in the first place" do address governmental immunity issues and should be read carefully. Below, Phillips summarizes the first three causes of action in the Complaint: a disclosure law was broken, a rule of common decency was broken and the people in command dropped the ball by making no considered decision.
First Three Causes of Action
This terrible accident happened for three reasons which were all the City’s fault. First, a disclosure law was broken. In January 2020, California became the second state in the USA to require all public and private animal shelters to give people a written description of a dog’s bite history including the circumstances of each bite, when the dog is being adopted-out. In this case, the pit bull would not have been adopted if the City made the mandatory disclosure. By not doing so, the City broke the law and caused this accident, and therefore must be held responsible.
Second, a rule of common decency was broken. When anything is wrong with a dog, whoever is giving it away to the new owner has to say what’s wrong with it, whether the dog is crippled or has allergies or likes to jump on people or has bitten anyone. Courts everywhere have ruled for hundreds of years that giving this information is not discretionary, and failing to give it is negligent. So in this case, the City is responsible for this accident because employees of the shelter did not tell the pit bull's new owner about the circumstances of the attack on the jogger.
Third, the people in command dropped the ball. Los Angeles politicians want the City to have "no kill" shelters, which are those that find homes for at least 90% of the animals in custody. This is a wonderful but unrealistic goal because many dogs are impounded after hurting someone. An unintended consequence is that a number of vicious dogs get released to increase the City’s "no kill" statistics at the expense of public safety. When this happens, it is not the result of making a bad decision but making no decision at all, just a slavish adherence to the "no kill" philosophy. We count on animal control departments to protect us, and when they drop the ball, as they did here, the City must be held responsible to compensate the people who get hurt. - Attorney Kenneth Phillips
Phillips also provided a more technical legal description about why this lawsuit can proceed in the face of governmental tort laws that provide a variety of defenses to public entities and employees. The City cannot claim to have an immunity when the duty it breaches is a mandatory duty, because the governmental tort laws allow for claims based on the breach of mandatory duties. The City cannot avoid liability for the actions of its non-supervisory employees on the basis of "discretionary immunity" because their failure to give a common sense warning was during the "ministerial" steps in the adoption process, steps that were not "discretionary." And the City cannot avoid liability for the actions of supervisors on the basis of "discretionary immunity" because they neglected to make a considered decision about where and to whom the dog should be placed -- in other words, no "discretion" was exercised.
The first part of the lawsuit says the City failed to provide a mandatory disclosure document to Mrs. Alvarado's son during the adoption process at the East Valley Shelter. This first "cause of action" is directly against the City. Technically it is based on what the law refers to as "breach of a mandatory duty."
In the second cause of action, the lawsuit charges the Shelter's employees with not telling Mrs. Alvarado's son about the dog's biting history the whole time they were interacting with him regarding the "ministerial" details of the adoption process. The accusations against the employees are an indirect way of suing the City, because it is responsible for their negligence like any other employer would be. This part of the case is based on a duty to warn and on the lack of "discretionary immunity" for failing to warn or deciding against warning.
The third cause of action accuses Shelter supervisors of negligently giving the "okay" to adopt-out the pit bull that attacked Mrs. Alvarado without making any considered decision, any weighing of the pros and cons and the possible risks and benefits of doing so. The dog met the State’s definition of a "vicious dog," and a Shelter employee had recommended a "dangerous dog hearing" to consider whether the pit bull should have been euthanized or confined with extra security. Although the City might be proud of its "no-kill" policy, the decision as to whether to permit the adoption of any particular dog has to be a considered one, not a slavish adherence to the "no kill philosophy" of major donors. The Complaint says this dog was put up for adoption without any consideration of other options like euthanizing it or releasing it to, say, a nonprofit rescue group with facilities for housing vicious dogs. Technically the third cause of action is based on not making a policy decision or exercising discretion that would qualify for immunity. - Attorney Kenneth Phillips
Parts of the Complaint
We also examined two parts of the Complaint more closely. Paragraphs 10, 36 and 37 show that Brent was a sitting duck to the City, who mistakenly believed it was protected by immunity. Shelter staff routinely lie to adopters about a dog’s history because they know that suing a government agency is extremely difficult. Phillips lays it all bare here, "Brent did not know, and had no way of learning" about the previous bite. Only the City had this information and did not disclose it.
This absolute abuse of power by taxpayer-funded shelters -- who know that the public puts their trust in them, but will still conceal a dog’s bite history, all under the guise of "no-kill" -- must result in lawsuits whenever possible. Since 2016, we have warned readers, "The only way to get full disclosure of the dog's behavior is to request in writing all uncensored behavior and medical records prior to adoption." Remember that "disclosure" is not the same as "full disclosure."
10. Defendant City publicized the availability of O’Gee for adoption by the public by posting on the Internet the dog's photograph and description with no mention of the attack on the Jogger, the circumstances related to the bite, the nature and extent of the injuries that O’Gee inflicted on the Jogger, or the absence of legal justification for the attack…
36. Defendant City and its employees breached the duty alleged herein by not informing Brent about the circumstances of the bite the Jogger sustained, the nature and extent of the injuries that O’Gee inflicted on him, and the absence of legal justification for the attack.
37. Brent did not know, and had no way of learning, about the circumstances of the bite the Jogger sustained, the nature and extent of the injuries that O’Gee inflicted on him, or the absence of legal justification for the attack.
Ask yourself how often the above scenario occurs every day at shelters across the country, while knowing that only two states have mandatory bite disclosure laws? Recall that no-kill, resume style, is not about "saving" 90% of dogs coming into shelters, many riddled with aggression issues, it’s about "saving" 98% of dogs coming into shelters. That extra 8% includes dogs like O’Gee, dogs with dangerous impulsive aggression being adopted out to unprepared owners.
Paragraph 39 shows manipulation. Shelter workers know that adoptions are emotional and that these emotions can be exploited -- "the Shelter emasculated the dog after just one or two phone calls with Brent, before he saw the dog." A dog that qualified under the state law as "vicious" was quickly snipped and presented to Brent as a safe, friendly companion dog in front of his teenage daughter. Under these conditions, Brent did what most adopters would do, he couldn’t say no.
39. Brent agreed to adopt O'Gee based on the following factors: (1) the dog was offered to the public by the Shelter which was a governmental agency whose duties include ridding the jurisdiction of vicious dogs and placing "adoptable" dogs in suitable new households, (2) the advertised description of O'Gee did not state or imply that the dog had bit a person, (3) the verbal comments about the dog which employees of the Shelter made to Brent gave him the impression that O'Gee was a safe, friendly companion dog without a history of vicious attacks on people, (4) Brent felt pressure to take O'Gee because the Shelter emasculated the dog after just one or two phone calls with Brent, before he saw the dog, and (5) when he saw O'Gee for the first and only time at the Shelter, Brent was with his 14-year-old daughter and assumed that if O'Gee was inappropriate in a family setting the Shelter employees would tell him so.
Fourth Cause of Action
The fourth cause of action is the "Loss of consortium of spouse." As a sole proximate result of his wife's injuries and disabilities, "Jose has suffered and will continue to suffer a loss or impairment of her support, services, love, companionship, comfort, affection, society, the moral support each spouse gives each other through the triumphs and despairs of life, and the deprivation of her physical assistance in operating and maintaining the family home," states the Complaint.
Jose and Argelia have been married and living together for many years, states the Complaint. Jose has fathered children with her as well. The unprovoked, vicious attack by O’Gee, which "tortuously injured and disabled" Argelia permanently, was ruinous to her, ruinous to Jose, ruinous to their marriage and ruinous to the entire Alvarado household. Jose should be compensated for the partial loss of his wife’s companionship, affection, household services and more.
Statement of Damages
The Statement of Damages, dated August 1, 2021, notified the City that Argelia is seeking $1 million in medical treatment costs and other economic losses, plus $15 million for pain and suffering. The latter is based on her life expectancy of 15 years multiplied by $1 million per year for having to live the rest of her life as a cripple due to the City’s negligence and law-breaking. Her husband Jose is seeking $5 million because of the terrible impact this accident will have on him.
Argelia Alvarado v. City of Los Angeles is the first known Complaint based on the mandatory statutory duty of any shelter to provide an adopter with detailed written information about a dog's bite history -- each prior bite and the circumstances of those bites -- and to obtain the adopter’s signature on an acknowledgement to confirm the material was given. Plaintiffs seeking $21 million in damages is now on the public record when a shelter fails to disclose a prior bite in California.
Mrs. Alvarado's case shows how a very simple, common sense law can make all the difference. In Virginia and California right now, shelters are obligated to tell the truth about the dogs they are adopting-out. Any shelter that doesn't put the bite history in writing will have to pay for the medical bills, pain and suffering of anyone who gets hurt because they weren't told the whole story. Whether it's a public or private shelter, they can be fined and held responsible when they hurt people by not telling the truth about a dog that bites. - Attorney Kenneth Phillips
In other lawsuits against no-kill shelters in Los Angeles Superior Court, Daugherty also uncovered that between 2016 to 2019, seven lawsuits were filed against Best Friends Animal Society, who champions no-kill and pit bulls, for "Personal Injury/Property Damage/Wrongful Death (Unlimited)." All of these complaints were filed before the mandatory bite disclosure law came into effect in 2020. Future lawsuits involving undisclosed bite histories will be even more costly for BFAS.
The causes of action in the lawsuit state, in part, that Best Friends Animal Society (BFAS) "had a duty to warn and make known the dog’s unusually dangerous nature and tendencies," and that BFAS had knowledge of the "risk of harm" … and yet, "recklessly, willfully, intentionally, with gross negligence and with wanton or conscious disregard for safety, sold, transferred or conveyed the dog to Plaintiffs."
The only real world solution to stop the rampant abuse and lying by shelters and rescues to the public about a dog’s bite history and aggression, all to obtain the single metric 90% "save rate" of no-kill, is to aggressively file lawsuits after damaging attacks and hold these parties accountable. If you have been victimized by an adopted dog, especially in California or Virginia, and the agency failed to disclose the dog’s bite history, contact a personal injury attorney as soon as possible.
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