Pit Bull Fatal Attack: Criminal Liability? Civil Liability? Or Both?

Pit-bull

Jacob Bisbee Two year
old Jacob Bisbee was mauled to death by three pit bulls (often considered a
Steven Hayashidangerous breed) owned by his
step-grandfather, Steven Hayashi.  The
tragedy occurred in 2010.  According to Contra Costa County prosecuting attorney Mary Knox:

 

 

  1. Hayashi repeatedly ignored pleas by his wife and Jacob’s
    father to remove his five pit bulls from the home the extended family shared on
    Trailcreek Court
  2. July 22, 2010: Hayashi was designated as the caretaker
    for Jacob and his four year old brother while his wife slept after a night
    shift.
  3. Hayashi went out to play tennis with his son, leaving
    Jacob and the brother unsupervised.
  4. Hayashi did not lock the door to the garage where the
    pit bulls were kept.  He knew the boys
    could uopen the door but they usually stayed in their room.
  5. Jacob wandered into the garage and found three of the
    five pit bulls (the other two were in the yard)

The legal question to be answered is not whether Hayashi
intended for this tragedy to happen but whether the dog attack constituted a
crime.  Hayashi is currently being tried
for involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment.  If found guilty, he could face up to 10 years
in prison.

In a jailhouse interview with the San Francisco Chronicle,
Hayashi acknowledged that he had ignored signs which would warn him of the dogs’
dangerous propensities.  Those signs
included one of the dogs killing his Chihuahua.

At the preliminary hearing, Judge Clare Maier said that
there was not enough evidence to support a murder charge because there was “scant
evidence” that Hayashi’s dogs had previously attacked humans.

Hayashi is seeking acquittal and is being represented by
attorney David Cohen.  Over Cohen’s objections,
Knox opened the trial last week by showing photos taken at a hospital of the
little boy’s disfigured body.

Cohen was quoted as saying “The D.A.’s case is all about the
terrible photos and a terrible tragedy and that somebody’s got to pay.  This family and my client have suffered
tremendously.  He certainly didn’t intend
for this to happen.”

This is certainly a tragedy.
Whether Hayashi’s negligence will rise to the level of a guilty verdict
is a question to be decided during this trial.

In civil court, someone in Hayashi’s shoes could be sued for
wrongful death based on both theories of negligence and a statutory
liability
.

In my practice I’ve represented, and continue to represent,
many victims of dog attacks. This is a tragedy that could have, and should have, been avoided.