Posted on Oct 13, 2007
Hawaii jury awards $850,000 for dog bites
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer
A young dog-bite victim and his mother were awarded $850,000 by a Circuit Court jury yesterday in what is believed to be the largest dog-bite award in Hawai'i.
The decision, reached after less than three hours of deliberations, comes when the number of reported dog bites and the potential for dog-bite lawsuits in Hawai'i are on the rise.
Keeton Manguso was 2 1/2 and weighed 24 pounds on Mother's Day 2005 when he was bitten multiple times by a Rottweiler owned by Mariko Bereday at Kahala Beach.
Keeton received stitches for bites to his hip and back. He also was bitten on his arms, said Jim Bickerton, his attorney.
Veronica Tomooka, Keeton's mother, could not pull the dog off her son and it took a passerby — a former University of Hawai'i football player with martial arts training — to fend off the dog, Bickerton said.
Dogs can't be blamed for their behavior, Bickerton said after the verdict, but the case sends a valuable message to those who own dogs and do not follow animal control laws.
"Dog owners tell me that this kind of behavior by Miss Bereday ruins things for the responsible dog owners in the community who observe the leash laws and other animal control regulations," he said.
"It really highlights that the rules that say 'when a dog is out in public it should be leashed' are there for a very good reason. Too many people want to enjoy the pleasure of running with their dogs at the beach and don't stop to think about the risk that poses, particularly to children."
Paul Yamamura, Bereday's attorney in the civil case, could not be reached for comment.
Outside the courtroom following the verdict, Bereday told reporters that she denies responsibility for the incident and that photos taken of the boy's wounds were faked.
Bereday also said outside the courtroom that she intends to appeal.
Bickerton said Bereday was not allowed to testify on her own behalf because she did not submit herself to a deposition despite a court order to do so.
The jury awarded Manguso's family $500,000 in punitive damages and $350,000 in general damages. The award included $6,500 in medical bills, Bickerton said, noting that one of Manguso's wounds became infected requiring additional hospitalization.
The trial began Tuesday and ran through Thursday, when the case went to the jury.
During a separate criminal proceeding last year involving the incident and another attack involving a 4-year-old girl six days after the attack on Keeton, Bereday was sentenced to five days in jail and a $2,000 fine. The dog was ordered destroyed. The case is under appeal.
The girl victim's family also has sued Bereday, and the case is ongoing.
Gary Dubin, Bereday's criminal attorney, said Bereday's jail sentence and the dog's execution have been stayed, pending an appeal.
Dubin said prosecutors in court documents have conceded that the jail sentence was improper.
Bickerton said Bereday had a history of ignoring leash laws. He showed as evidence a copy of a letter from the Hawaiian Humane Society to Bereday in 2003 reminding her of leash laws after receiving a sixth complaint about her dogs.
The number of reported dog bites has increased steadily in recent years to more than 1,000 annually. Dog bite lawsuits previously have generated awards and out-of-court settlements of more than $350,000 in Hawai'i.
"People seem to have gotten more relaxed about controlling their dogs than they used to be," Bickerton said. "Many now go to obedience schools and have more confidence that their dogs would behave and feel more comfortable letting them run around without a leash. But we have to remember that they are animals."