In 2002, Marguene St. Juste, a hotel housekeeper, was attacked by a pair of Rottweiler mixes while walking. The dogs had several prior complaints against them.
Last year a jury in Palm Beach, Florida awarded St. Juste a total of $3.7 million for past medical bills, loss of wages, future earning capacity, pain, suffering, mental anguish, physical impairment, and loss of capacity for enjoyment of life in the past and money for the future. Jurors found that Delray Beach was 60 percent liable and Keli Nowling, the owner of the dogs, was 40 percent liable. After the attack, Nowling fled the state and mounted no defense at the trial, meaning that collecting money from her would prove fruitless.
In a 2-1 decision by the District Court of Appeal, it was ruled that the animal control officer and police of Delray Beach’s decision to not impound the dogs was discretionary, making the city immune.
Judge Fred Hazouri dissented, writing that the animal control officer "was well aware of the danger created by these dogs roaming free,” and that, in addition to advising that “this dangerous condition would be taken care of,” means that there is a special duty to the plaintiff, which eliminates the City’s immunity.
St. Juste and her attorney plan to appeal to the state’s Supreme Court.
The appellate court’s decision was handed down a day after another suit was filed by a pregnant woman who, along with her dog, was attacked by a pair of loose pit bulls. That attack also involved dogs which had numerous complaints against them.