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$1.9 Mil. Product Defect Settlement for Woman Attacked by a Rotweiller

Gina Passarella, The Legal Intelligencer

March 12, 2010

A woman who suffered arm injuries after being attacked by a Rottweiler in Chester County settled for a combined $1.9 million between the dog owner and the distributor of a tether cord the dog allegedly broke free from right before the attack.

The case Schickram v. Boss Pet Products was in the middle of jury selection in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court March 5 when plaintiffs Evelyn and Larry Schickram settled with Boss Pet Products for $1.6 million. The Schickrams had previously settled with the dog owner, Pamela Leader, for $300,000 — the policy limits of her homeowners’ insurance, according to court papers and the plaintiffs’ attorney, Thomas F. Sacchetta of Sacchetta & Baldino in Media, Pa.

Evelyn and Larry Schickram were driving to a home inspection prior to the purchase of a house on Chestnut Grove Road in Chester County in June 2006. When Evelyn got out of the car, a 118-pound Rottweiler that had allegedly broken free from a dog tie-out cable in the next-door neighbor’s yard attacked her.

According to the Schickrams’ pre-trial memorandum, the attack was so severe “flesh was torn from her body and strewn throughout the area.” Schickram was taken from the scene by a medevac helicopter to a local trauma center.

Ultimately, she made a strong recovery, suffering scarring on her left arm and some chronic pain after surgery in her right arm. She is expected to have continued pain and both sides’ medical experts agreed she reached her maximum expected recovery. She was able to return to her job as an information technology manager, but could no longer lift heavy objects, Sacchetta said.

After settling with the homeowner, who had immediately after the attack turned the dog over to be put down, Schickram sued the tether cord distributor Boss Pet Products, seller PetSmart and the China-based manufacturer Shanghai Kington Trading Co. Sacchetta said PetSmart had an indemnification agreement with Boss so they shared representation — Walter H. “Pete” Swayze III and Brian W. Franklin of Segal McCambridge Singer & Mahoney.

The plaintiffs had argued prior to settlement that there was a design defect with the tether cord in that the plastic covering along the cable stopped an inch before the clasp, allowing for water and the elements to corrode the cable, Sacchetta said. Sometimes that could be seen by the owner and other times not, he said.

In Schickram , Sacchetta said the dog owner had the tether cord for less than a year and it was sold for dogs up to 250 pounds. The plaintiffs argued the cord should have been made out of stainless steel, rather than galvanized steel, because it wouldn’t have corroded. They also argued the cable should have been covered up to the snap, he said.

The defense argued stainless steel allows for notching, which also could have caused the cable to break. The defendants also looked to put the blame on the dog owner. According to their pretrial memorandum, Boss Pet and PetSmart argued that upon purchase Leader tied the cord around a tree and left it there for a year to be exposed to the elements. They said the cable was visibly worn and rusted in various locations and Leader should have stopped using it, according to the court papers.

The defense also argued the product came with adequate warnings that the cord wasn’t meant for use with “‘mean or vicious dogs’” and that not all pets can be effectively tethered. The defense also raised the argument that the dog may not have been tethered at all at the time of the incident because Leader had two other dogs she admittedly let roam free and who were out at the time of the incident, according to court documents.

Sacchetta said he thought he had a pretty strong case going into trial even if the defendants were looking to put the blame on Leader because, under strict liability rules, alleged negligence of an owner doesn’t negate a design defect.

Sacchetta said he and his client were pleased with the settlement. They were seeking around $2 million going into trial and the offer at that point was about $900,000, he said. Sacchetta admitted he would have had some trouble showing loss of future income at trial but was going to present it in case Schickram lost her job and had trouble finding another because of her remaining limitations. He said she is lucky to have an understanding employer.

Defense attorney Swayze didn’t return a call for comment by press time.

Reprinted with permission from the “ISSUE DATE” edition of the “PUBLICATION.” © “2010” ALM Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.

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