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Kansas dog bite case settles despite hurdles

A girl bitten by a dog in a rural area of Kansas secured a $170,000 settlement, despite significant hurdles in the case.

On Jan. 15, 2012, the plaintiff, 7 at the time, was bitten on the face by a dog while playing outside. She suffered lacerations on her right cheek, nose and just above her lip, as well as holes in her left cheek and forehead. She required sutures and was left with a thick, permanent scar on her face.

David Johnson, an attorney for the plaintiff, said the case presented challenges despite its seemingly straightforward nature.

“It seems like an open-and-shut case,” he said. “Don’t be deceived. Dog bite cases can present significant problems.”

Leavenworth County, Kan., a rural, low-income venue, has had virtually no awards in dog bite cases, and the state caps noneconomic damages at $250,000. The plaintiff’s medical bills were less than $3,000.

In addition, the dog owner, John Zedaker, had moved to Oregon before the filing of the suit, though it was later determined that his homeowner’s insurance policy through USAA was in effect at the time of the bite and that no exclusions applied.

It also was not clear that Zedaker’s dog was considered to be vicious and dangerous before the attack. Kansas’ dog bite law contains the common-law rule of “one free bite,” where a dog owner is not liable for injuries the dog caused unless the dog had dangerous propensities and the owner knew or should have known about the dog’s vicious nature. Johnson said no indication existed that Zedaker’s dog had ever attacked anyone other than the plaintiff. Zedaker’s neighbor, however, testified that the dog, which was old and blind, had snapped at people before and had a “nasty temperament.”

The $170,000 settlement includes annuity payments that the plaintiff will receive in installments once she reaches the age of majority. Johnson said the money will allow the plaintiff to get medical care, including plastic surgery to repair the scar, and he praised USAA for its willingness to settle the case.

Dana Harris, an attorney for the defense, did not return a call seeking comment.

$170,000 settlement

Dog bite (Out of state)

Venue: Leavenworth County (Kan.) District Court

Case Number/Date: 2013-CV-000318/Aug. 7, 2013

Judge: David King

Insurer: USAA

Caption: S.R., a minor, by and through her Natural Mother and Next Friend, Mary S. Rickey v. John W. Zedaker

Plaintiffs’ Attorney: Steve Sanders and David Johnson, The Law Offices of Steve Sanders, Kansas City

Defendant’s Attorney: Dana Harris and Emily Yessen, Harris & Hart, Leawood, Kan.