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Anchorwoman seeks damages for emotional trauma over dog's death

By KELLY NIX

Published: October 31, 2008

IN A lawsuit that seeks to set a new precedent for damages, a local news anchorwoman is suing the owner of a Labrador for emotional distress after the dog mauled her Maltese last year in front of the Pacific Grove post office.

In her suit filed Oct. 20 in Monterey County Superior Court, Olga Ospina, of KCBA and KION TV, asks that the Lab’s owners, Donna Bazan and Donald Armstrong, be required to pay her thousands of dollars for veterinary and personal medical bills.

But Ospina is also seeking something California courts haven’t awarded before. She wants money for “severe emotional distress” she claims she suffered as a result of her dog being attacked.

Heretofore, “the law limits emotional distress damages to being in the presence of a close human relative who gets njured,” said Ospina’s Monterey attorney, Chuck Warner. “This is unique.”

Courts in most states, including California, view pets as personal property and limit compensation to the fair market value of the pet — including the pedigree of the animal, the purchase price and other criteria.

Ospina was walking her Maltese, Lulu, on Lighthouse Avenue in front of the post office July 25, 2007, when Samson, an 8-year-old Labrador, and another dog jumped from Bazan’s parked SUV.

Ospina, whom Warner said received a bite to the forearm in the melee, contends Samson was the dog that mauled Lulu, who died days later after being treated by a Santa Cruz veterinarian.

“It’s a lawsuit against them for failing to control their dog,” Warner said.

According to Michigan State University College of Law’s Animal Legal and Historical Center, there have been instances in which courts in states that normally don’t award damages for the loss of pets have done so.

In one case, a city employee hurled a trash can at a miniature dachshund while collecting the trash. The dog died. The court allowed damages based upon the nature of the conduct.

In another case, where a neighbor intentionally shot a plaintiff’s dog, a court awarded damages because the actions “were outrageous, showed reckless indifference for the rights of others, and to deter [the defendant] and others from like conduct,” according to MSU.


Second lawsuit

This is Ospina’s second lawsuit over the dog attack. In November 2007, Ospina asked a Monterey County judge to overturn a decision by a Pacific Grove official that the dog that killed Lulu didn’t have to be destroyed.

But Monterey County Superior Court Judge Robert O’Farrell upheld the city’s decision that Samson could be returned to his owners in Rancho Palos Verdes. In addition to 18 other conditions, the city required the Lab to undergo behavioral training courses.

Bazan was across the street getting coffee when the dogs leapt from the SUV.

According to Ospina’s recent suit, Armstrong, who was siting in the front seat of the SUV, did little to stop the attack.

“He was on the cell phone and didn’t do a damn thing to interfere,” Warner said.

Lulu was disemboweled in the attack, according to the suit.

Warner said he has sent letters to the City of Rancho Palos Verdes to find out if Samson’s owners have complied with the conditions of Garcia’s ruling.

“I never received a response from them,” he said.

Though Bazan had said she would pay the roughly $21,000 Warner said Ospina racked up in vet and personal medical bills, Ospina has been paid nothing, he said.

He said Ospina’s arm has healed but that she still experiences emotional trauma from the attack.