A jury in Rusk County, Texas has returned a seven million dollar verdict against the owners of two dogs, one Pit Bull mix and one American bull dog, that mauled to death a 10 year old boy on June 15, 2009. Following a week long trial in Judge Clay Gossett's courtroom in Henderson, Texas, the jury found that the dog owners were negligent and strictly liable for the actions of their two dangerous dogs.
Cynthia Stevens Kent and Don Kent, with the law firm of Kent, Good, Anderson and Bush, P.C. of Tyler, argued on behalf of young Justin Clinton and his grieving mother, Serenia Clinton, that these dogs were abnormally dangerous and the pet owners should be strictly liable for the death of Justin.
Witnesses testified that during the summer of 2009, Justin Clinton was a happy and active country boy in Texas. He had taken his skateboard from home to go to his friend's house to play, just as he had done many times before. However, on this day the two dogs viciously attacked Justin and mauled him to death behind Ricky and Christy George's house.
Veronica Tatum testified that she saw the dogs attacking the boy from across the street at the local school and literally ran out of her flip flops shoes to come to Justin's rescue. She beat the dogs with Justin's skateboard to get them back into their fenced yard area and administered CPR but was not able to stop the bleeding and save Justin's life.
During the week the jury heard evidence from 46 witnesses and viewed 125 exhibits which documented the vicious attack and conduct of these two animals. Although several defense witnesses testified that they had never seen the dogs act aggressively before and one even referred to the dogs as "lovable little fluff balls," law enforcement officers and other witnesses testified to the dogs' vicious and aggressive nature as compared to other dog breeds. Two law enforcement officers at the scene of the attack became so concerned about the aggressive nature of these dogs that they pulled their guns to protect themselves and others.
Cynthia Stevens Kent, lead counsel for the estate of Justin Clinton and his mother, Serenia Clinton, told the jury that this case was all about justice for Justin.
John Heike, counsel for the dog owners, told the jury that trial would not be necessary if the dogs had not been immediately ethanized by animal control officers following the attack. However, Ms. Kent told the jury that Serenia Clinton brought this case because her son, Justin, a 10 year old boy full of life, love, and the promise of tomorrow was dead because the dog owners knew or should have known that their Pit and American bull dog breeds were abnormally dangerous.
During the dog attack, Ms. Tatum testified that after she got the dogs back into their fenced yard and trying to save Justin's life, she could hear the dogs ramming the fence over and over again trying to get out.
She testified these dogs were so vicious that they wanted to get out of the fence to try to eat Justin. Ms. Tatum begged the officers, when they arrived at the scene to kill the dogs as she feared for her own life.
Cynthia Kent, counsel for Ms. Clinton, said that she doesn't know how many Justin's will have to die before someone, somewhere stands up and says enough is enough. Whether it is the legislature, the governor or the Courts, she urged someone to do something about vicious and dangerous breeds of dogs.
Serenia Clinton, from the date of the death of her son, consistently said that all she wanted was justice in this case knowing nothing can ever bring Justin back home. She hopes that by this verdict the jury sent a strong message that pet owners will be held responsible for the dangerous dogs and that, hopefully, lawmakers will do something to protect children from the vicious nature of these animals. She was grateful the jury in Texas finally delivered justice for Justin.
Update September 21, 2010 8:22pm - The following article is from KSLA:
Mother hoping to create new law for pit bulls in TX
A Tyler mother who lost her 10-year-old son in a dog attack is working to make sure it never happens again, through a proposed new law.
Last year pit bulls mauled 10-year-old Justin Clinton to death.
The family just won a $7 million dollar jury settlement against the dog owners, finding them negligent and strictly liable for his death.
The family is drafting "Justin's Law." It's legislation that would make owners of dangerous breeds responsible for preventing attacks.
They want the legislation to require owners to maintain high fences that are locked and secure.
It would also require them to carry liability insurance in case someone is hurt.
"The $7 million verdict, that part, we know we're not going to get any of it, that's not why we're doing this," said Serenia Clinton, Justin's mother. "Basically, why we're doing this was to get justice for Justin and to make the message come out that these dogs are very vicious dogs."
Attorneys hope to draft legislation of "Justin's Law" to lawmakers in 30 days to file before the next legislative session in January.