The owner of two pit bulls that fatally injured a woman in a devastating dog attack in Washington state back in September is now facing criminal charges.
According to an NBC news report, 34-year-old Sara Amilia Madrigal of Kennewick is facing one count of a dangerous dog attack causing severe injury or death. Officials say two pit bulls owned by the woman attacked a smaller dog in an unincorporated area of Kennewick.
Witnesses at the scene said that when Billene Cameron tried to defend her smaller dog from the two pit bulls, the dogs turned around and attacked her.
Pit Bulls in Dog Attack Had Been Declared Dangerous
Court documents say video later confirmed the witness accounts, and the pit bulls were eventually detained by police. Emergency personnel administered first aid, including a tourniquet, to the victim. She was transported to an area hospital, where she later succumbed to her injuries. The Medical Examiner determined that Cameron, who was on blood thinners, died from medical complications during efforts to treat her for her injuries.
Madrigal told officials that she kept the dogs in her backyard because she did not feel safe with them in the house with her children and other pets. Court documents stated that the pit bulls belonged to Madrigal’s ex-boyfriend, but she kept them even though they had been deemed dangerous after a prior attack on a person in 2021.
What Does It Mean When a Dog is Deemed Dangerous?
The classification of a “dangerous dog” varies by jurisdiction. Generally, it refers to a dog that has exhibited aggressive behavior, attacked, or caused injury to a person or another animal. Laws defining dangerous dogs often impose specific regulations and requirements on owners to ensure public safety.
Criteria for identifying a dangerous dog may include:
Aggressive behavior: Dogs displaying aggressive tendencies, such as growling, snapping, biting, or attacking without provocation, might be labeled as dangerous.
Previous attacks on humans or other dogs: A dog involved in prior attacks or biting incidents, regardless of severity, may be considered dangerous under the law.
Breed-specific legislation (BSL): Some jurisdictions enforce breed-specific laws targeting certain breeds perceived as more prone to aggression. Breeds like pit bulls, rottweilers, and others might face stricter regulations or labeling as dangerous dogs based solely on breed.
Once labeled as dangerous, regulations typically require owners to take precautions, such as:
- Registering the dog as dangerous with local authorities.
- Maintaining liability insurance or posting warning signs on the property.
- Using secure enclosures or muzzles when in public.
- Complying with leash laws and restrictions on the dog’s interactions with people or other animals.
Failure to comply with these regulations can lead to fines, penalties, or even removal of the dog from the owner’s custody. The primary intent behind these laws is to protect communities from potential harm while encouraging responsible pet ownership.
Dog Attacks and Criminal Charges
Dog attacks that lead to criminal charges typically involve severe incidents causing significant injuries or fatalities. Several scenarios may result in criminal charges. For example, if a dog attack causes severe injuries, disfigurement, or permanent disability to a person, the dog owner could face charges of aggravated assault or battery, depending on the jurisdiction’s laws.
A dog owner may also face charges of reckless endangerment if they knowingly allow their aggressive or poorly controlled dog to pose a substantial risk of harm to others, resulting in an attack. In cases where a dog attack leads to someone’s death, the owner might face charges of manslaughter or homicide, especially if there’s evidence of negligence, prior knowledge of the dog’s aggressive behavior, or failure to take preventive measures.
In addition, where applicable, dog owners might face charges for violating local animal control laws, such as leash laws, or owning a dangerous animal without complying with specific regulations. In such situations, prosecutors typically consider the severity of the injuries, the dog owner’s knowledge of the dog’s aggressive tendencies, any prior incidents, and whether the owner took reasonable steps to prevent the attack when determining whether to press criminal charges. These charges aim to hold owners accountable for their negligence or intentional actions that led to serious harm or death caused by their dogs.
Holding Dog Owners Financially Responsible
California is one of many states that has a strict liability statute when it comes to dog attacks. This means that dog owners can be held financially responsible for the injuries, damages, and losses their pets cause. This is irrespective of whether the dog had attacked anyone previously or whether the incident occurred on public or private property.
Dog owners can be held financially responsible for damages caused by their pets’ actions, particularly if their negligence or lack of control led to harm. When a dog bites or injures someone, the owner can be liable for medical expenses, including hospital bills, surgeries, and rehabilitation costs incurred by the victim. Property damage caused by the dog, such as destroying personal belongings or injuring other animals, might also result in the owner being financially accountable.
Additionally, if the victim experiences lost wages due to injuries that prevent them from working, the dog owner could be responsible for compensating for those financial losses. Damages in civil lawsuits can extend to cover pain, emotional distress, and trauma experienced by the victim as a result of the dog attack. Homeowners’ insurance policies often cover dog bite liability, but owners might face personal financial responsibility if damages exceed their insurance coverage or if they lack insurance altogether. An experienced California dog bite lawyer can help injured victims and their families better understand their legal rights and options.