Dogged lawyer delivers verdict of $ 22,000 for sheep, goats killed by dog
Lawyer seeking compensation for more than a dozen sheep and several goats killed by marauding dog says jury award of $ 22,000, including $ 12,000 in attorney fees, falls short to be his greatest verdict.
But, said Matthew Carlton, “This is the craziest case I have ever had. It was like high stakes poker all over the place.
In addition to focusing on what Carlton said is probably one of Georgia’s oldest laws, which places strict liability on dog owners who kill livestock, he also had to assess the value of dead animals: 16 sheep and three goats.
“They were Shetland sheep, apparently quite valuable, around $ 1,000 a piece,” he said. “Goats only cost about $ 100 – poor goats,” Carlton said of the Carlton Act of Decatur.
The Daily Report was unable to reach Julie Bigler, who owned the Catahoula’s leopard dog blamed for attacks, and a number for his Fairburn phone was out of service.
Bigler’s attorney, Ethenia King of the College Park Justice and Freedom Firm, said her client was exploring all of her options after the negative verdict.
According to Carlton and court documents, the attacks occurred on a farm in southern Fulton County that had belonged to a woman who later died of cancer; her brother and executor, Robert Dickens, took over and continued to lead it.
“There were sheep, goats, donkeys and a horse,” Carlton said.
The first attack took place in June 2018, when several sheep and goats were injured and a few sheep killed.
Dickens reported the attack to Fulton County Animal Control, and his brother set up motion-triggered camera traps that captured footage of a large orange dog chasing goats.
Two months later there was another trail and more dead animals; an animal control officer came out and Dickens told him they suspected the dog belonged to Bigler, who lived 2 miles away.
When the officer showed him photos of the dog, Bigler said it looked like his own and was “shocked,” Carlton said, as the dog’s enclosure was fenced and topped with barbed wire “like the Stalag. 13 ”.
Despite this, cameras captured another attack in December with footage showing the dog killing sheep and goats; grisly exhibits show the carcasses and injured animals and a large orange dog, apparently stained with blood, rampaging among the animals.
“These dogs are bred to hunt feral pigs,” Carlton said. “They are tough guys.”
Carlton said he wrote Bigler a letter asking him to pay for the dead animals.
“They blew me away, so I wrote another letter and they offered me around $ 900,” he said.
Dickens sued Bigler in Fulton County State Court.
During the trial, Bigler filed counterclaims, including slander and willful infliction of emotional distress; Dixon dismissed all claims for intentional infliction, but no counterclaim was included in the pre-trial order.
During the jury selection on Friday August 20, Carlton said the plaintiff offered $ 5,000 to settle the case.
“I said, ‘Offer $ 15,000 and I’ll tell my client to take it,’” he said.
During a two-day trial before Judge Myra Dixon, Carlton said Bigler claimed the photos were too blurry for her to confirm the dog’s identity.
When the animal control officer spoke, “the opponent’s lawyer started trying to ask him about coyotes, wolves and scavengers,” he said. “She said there were no wolves in Georgia and coyote sightings are extremely rare in southern Fulton County.”
“They also tried to argue that my client should have let the vet do an autopsy or DNA test,” he said. “It was overkill, like he was supposed to leave rotting animals lying around the farm while waiting to be tested.”
Carlton had included a request for attorney’s fees on the verdict form; After the evidence closed, Bigler’s attorney requested that the evidence be reopened so that she could also claim fees.
“The judge agrees, says she will allow him to reopen the evidence to present claims for emotional distress,” he said. “So I said, ‘I’m going to have to ask for the trial to be set aside. “
After speaking with his client, King said they would not pursue the counterclaim.
“I don’t think anyone wanted to try this case again,” he said.
On Tuesday, the jury took about an hour to award $ 10,000 in compensatory damages and $ 12,000 in costs and expenses.
What about the dog?
“I understand she had him pose,” he said. “It was not revealed at trial.”