Carolinas Verdicts

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Failure to secure pit bull led to attack on child, per plaintiffs

Amount:

$500,000

Type:

Verdict-Plaintiff

State:

North Carolina

Venue:

Union County

Court:

Union County, Superior Court

Injury Type(s):

other-sutures; other-laceration; face/nose-face; face/nose-facial laceration; face/nose-scar and/or disfigurement, face;
mental/psychological-anxiety; mental/psychological-post-traumatic stress disorder

Case Type:

Animals – Dog Bite; Negligence Per Se; Animals – Animal Control

Case Name:

Matthew Smith, Guardian ad Litem for Malachi Smith (Minor), and Gabrielle Smith, Individually v. Teneshia Craig and C. Alexander Rorie,
No. 15-CVS-02039

Date:

April 29, 2018

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Malachi Smith (Male, 6 Years), 

Gabrielle Smith

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Alex Woodyard;
The Law Offices of William K. Goldfarb;
Monroe,
NC,
for
Malachi Smith

Plaintiff Expert(s):

Daryl Greenberg; Property Management; Charlotte,
NC called by:
Alex Woodyard

Defendant(s):

Tim Huntley, 

Teneshia Craig, 

Lucinda B. Rorie, 

C. Alexander Rorie

Defense Attorney(s):

Teneshia Craig;
Pro Se;
for
Teneshia Craig ■ Tim Huntley;
Pro Se;
for
Tim Huntley ■ Joe P. McCollum Jr.;
Clark, Griffin & McCollum, L.L.P.;
Monroe,
NC,
for
Lucinda B. Rorie, C. Alexander Rorie

Facts:

On Nov. 24, 2014, plaintiff Malachi Smith, 6, was reportedly attacked by a pit bull dog owned by Malachi’s neighbors. He suffered lacerations to his face. Matthew Smith (no relation), Guardian ad Litem for Malachi Smith, and Malachi’s mother, Gabrielle Smith, sued neighbors Teneshia Craig and Tim Huntley. The suit alleged that Craig and Huntley negligently failed to control the dog. Smith also sued the property’s owners, C. Alexander Rorie and Lucinda Rorie. C. Alexander Rorie, the landlord of the property, was sued for ordinary negligence, negligence per se, failure to adhere to property management industry standards and common law strict liability. Smith also claimed that C. Alexander Rorie was an agent of his wife, Lucinda. The suit originally only named Teneshia Craig and C. Alexander Rorie as defendants. Tim Huntley and Lucinda Rorie were added later. Shortly before the dog attack, Gabrielle Smith said she had noticed that a dog belonging to Craig and Huntley was running loose in the neighborhood. This was not the pit bull in question, but another dog belonging to Craig and Huntley. Gabrielle Smith claimed she grabbed the dog by its chain and walked over to Craig and Huntley’s home to return the animal, with Malachi trailing behind her from a distance. After she dropped off the dog, she and Malachi began to walk back to their house. According to Gabrielle Smith, as she and Malachi walked in the street to their home, the pit bull confronted them and attacked Malachi. Craig and Huntley bred and sold dogs from their rental home. They were unable to sell one of their pit bulls and thus kept this dog on a chain attached to a nail stake in their yard. Craig and Huntley were sued for both statutory and common law strict liability. Smith’s counsel argued that they were liable under North Carolina General Statute § 67-4.4. The law states that the owner of a dangerous dog is held strictly liable for serious injuries caused by the dog. Smith further argued that the owners should have known the dog was vicious because it would constantly growl and snap its teeth when people walked by the home. Smith further made claims of ordinary negligence and failure to exercise reasonable care in maintenance of the property. Smith argued that the dog owners failed to properly secure the dog according to Union County’s animal control ordinance. The ordinance states that dangerous dogs must be kept in a secure location from which they cannot escape. However, Smith’s counsel claimed the dog was attached only to a nail stake that it could easily pull out of the ground. Counsel also argued that the owners failed to put up any signs warning residents about the dangerous dog. Smith additionally claimed that the pit bull’s owners treated the animal inhumanely and that this contributed to its vicious behavior. Counsel specifically argued that the owners kept the animal outside in inclement weather and never took it to a veterinarian or trainer. Smith also alleged that landlord C. Alexander Rorie was liable because he was aware of the dog’s dangerous behavior, yet failed to do anything about it. Smith argued that Mr. Rorie came by the residence every week to collect rent and would have seen the pit bull growling and otherwise acting aggressively. Smith claimed that Mr. Rorie did not confront the property owners about the dog’s presence, even though pets were forbidden in Craig and Huntley’s lease. Further, Smith argued that Mr. Rorie should have realized when he saw the dog on the chain every week that the animal was being treated inhumanely and that this increased the likelihood the pit bull would act aggressively. Moreover, Smith claimed that Mr. Rorie, as the landlord of the property, was considered a “keeper” of the dog under Union County’s animal control ordinance and therefore violated the ordinance by failing to secure the dog. Smith asserted that Mrs. Rorie was liable because Mr. Rorie was acting as her agent. Counsel claimed that Mrs. Rorie benefited financially from her husband’s lease agreement with the renters. Smith presented the testimony of a property management expert who stated that pit bulls are known for having dangerous propensities. The expert additionally testified that Mr. Rorie had a duty to inspect the property and make sure that the pit bull was secured. The expert further stated that Mr. Rorie should have enforced the rules of his lease, which stated that pets were forbidden on the property. The owners of the dog served as pro se defendants. They did not put on any evidence, but maintained in closing arguments that their pit bull was not dangerous. Craig, in particular, noted that she would not keep a dangerous dog on the premises because she had kids who lived with them. Craig and Huntley also denied treating the pit bull inhumanely. The Rories told the jury they were not responsible for the actions of another person’s dog. They further maintained that the dog had no history of biting other people and the Smiths had not complained to them about the pit bull in the past.

Injury:

Malachi Smith was placed in an ambulance and transported to Carolinas Medical Center-Union. The same day, he was transferred to Carolinas Medical Center Main. He had lacerations on his face that were treated that evening. He received sutures and underwent a scar revision procedure. Malachi had a few additional follow-up appointments after his initial hospitalization. However, he did require a second scar revision a year or two after the incident. Malachi saw a counselor two or three times following the attack. The counselor stated that Malachi had nightmares and anxiety that were possible signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Malachi was left with scars on his face as a result of the attack. There was evidence that he was teased in school and that he felt like people constantly stared at his face. Damages for past and future pain and suffering were sought on behalf of Malachi. His mother had filed an individual claim against the defendants for her son’s medical bills, but that claim was voluntarily dismissed prior to trial.

Result:

The jury found that C. Alexander Rorie was an agent of Lucinda Rorie; C. Alexander Rorie, Craig and Huntley were negligent under ordinary negligence and negligence per se; C. Alexander Rorie, Craig and Huntley were liable under common law strict liability; and C. Alexander Rorie was negligent in failing to adhere to industry standards in managing his property. The jury awarded $500,000 to Malachi Smith for past and future pain and suffering. All four defendants are jointly and severally liable.

Trial Information:

Judge:

Christopher Bragg

Trial Length:

4
 days

Trial Deliberations:

4
 hours

Jury Vote:

12-0

Post Trial:

The Rories’ counsel moved to set aside the verdict. The motion was denied.

Editor’s Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiffs’ counsel. The Rories’ counsel did not respond to the reporter’s phone calls, and the pro se defendants were not asked to contribute.