A Superior Court judge late last week awarded sheriff's deputy Marcus Dill damages for a bite he sustained while helping a Lynnwood police officer apprehend a fugitive in 2009.
Sandor, a German shepherd, escaped from his cage in the back of a patrol car while his handler, Lynnwood police Sgt. Jason Valentine, was trying to arrest a man who led officers on a chase.
The dog was able to push open the cage door and jump to the front seat because of a broken lock, according to court papers. Sandor exited from the open driver's door. He chomped Dill's left leg while the deputy and Valentine were trying to get the suspect out of his vehicle. Valentine immediately called off the dog.
Dill had bite wounds to the front and back of his lower left leg. He needed about 20 stitches to close up the wounds. The deputy was out of a work for about two weeks.
He sued Lynnwood and Valentine last year after the city failed to respond to a $300,000 claim for damages.
Dill alleged that the city and Valentine were negligent and responsible for his injuries. He alleged that Valentine knew that the lock was broken. The sergeant eventually was released from the lawsuit because the city owned the dog.
Last month, the negligence claim was thrown out. However, a judge wasn't convinced that Sandor's actions were protected under the law. Cities and counties generally are not liable for police dog bites if the force is deemed lawful.
Superior Court Judge Joseph Wilson concluded that the incident wasn't a lawful use of a police dog. The judge also ruled that Lynnwood had a duty to keep Dill safe from Sandor.
The city stipulated that it was liable for damages. How much was left up to Superior Court Judge George Bowden.
The city's attorneys argued that Lynnwood should only have to pay for the two weeks Dill was off work and medical expenses. In court papers, they estimated an actual loss of $14,000.
Lynnwood's lawyers argued that in the years after being bitten Dill has worked "virtually nonstop" and racked up thousands of hours of overtime. The city disputed that some of Dill's injuries were because of the dog bite.
The deputy's attorneys argued that $500,000 was a just verdict.
The state Department of Labor and Industries found that Dill has some permanent damage from the bite. Dill contended that his injury could affect his ability to work in the future. He sued for pain and suffering. His attorneys also sought future wage losses and medical and retraining costs.
Bowden awarded Dill $95,000 for pain and suffering. The judge also ordered the city to pay for the two weeks Dill was out of work. Bowden denied any claims for future wage loss.
"We're really happy with the results," the deputy's attorney, Justin Monro said. "We think they got the message."
The award is consistent with what the city's insurance company was prepared to pay Dill before the trial, Lynnwood's attorney Robert Christie said.
The deputy "is a very hardworking and honorable officer. It is unfortunate this accident occurred," Christie said. "Police work is a risky business even when all involved are well-trained and well-intentioned."
The city wishes Dill the best, the Seattle lawyer said.
Sandor was retired in September 2011 and went to live with Valentine. He served eight years with the city.
It isn't uncommon for police dog bites to end up in court.
In 2000, Snohomish County paid out $412,500 to settle a federal lawsuit brought by a reclusive burglar. He was mauled by Yukon, a dog with a trouble past, during an arrest near Darrington in 1998.
The settlement eventually led lawmakers to adopt standards to govern police dog operations.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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