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Officer's Daughter to Get $315,000 Over Dog Attack

November 03, 1988|STEPHANIE O'NEILL | Times Staff Writer

A jury has awarded the 6-year-old daughter of a Glendale police sergeant $315,000 and his ex-wife $50,000 for physical injuries suffered when his dog, which was owned by the city, attacked the girl four years ago.

In a series of split verdicts, the jury ruled out damages for emotional suffering and returned a judgment far short of the $3 million an attorney sought for the mother and daughter.

After the verdict was read in Glendale Superior Court Monday afternoon, the mother, Roberta Jauregui, said she was disappointed.

"I'm glad this is done," she said. "It's been four very long years. We are a little disappointed, . . . but that's the way it is."

Glendale Police Sgt. Ricardo L. Jauregui, who filed the suit with his wife but sought no damages for himself, refused comment.

The Jaureguis' attorney, Robert L. Esensten, had asked the jury during closing arguments Oct. 27 to award $2.5 million to Jennifer Jauregui and $500,000 to her mother.

Jury foreman David Christ of Eagle Rock said the jury spent all day Monday deciding how much money to award the Jaureguis. The judge's poll of the jury showed that Christ was one of two jurors who did not agree with the judgments and that he was the only juror who believed the city was liable for emotional damages in the case. However, agreement among nine jurors was all that was required for a verdict.

Juror Sandra Klone of Sunland said after the trial that she considered the judgments fair.

'Very Hard Verdict'

"It was a very, very hard verdict in that it involved a child, but in many respects, we were very comfortable with the amounts we came up with," Klone said. "Our biggest problem was, there is no clear-cut guideline. What is the price of a dog bite?"

The attorney hired to represent the City of Glendale, E. Wallace Dingman, said, "I think it was a good verdict. I think it's pretty fair."

The case arose after the police dog, a male German shepherd named Zahn, bit Jennifer in the head, puncturing her skull in two places and shattering her nose. Roberta Jauregui testified that the dog bit her own arm when she grabbed for her daughter, and then repeatedly bit Jennifer's legs and buttocks as she tried to carry the child to safety.

The incident occurred in December, 1984, as Jennifer and her mother were raking leaves in their back yard while Ricardo Jauregui was at work. It is not unusual for Glendale police officers to keep police dogs at their homes, officials said.

In closing arguments last Thursday, Dingman urged the jury to be "reasonable" when considering an award.

"If she were permanently injured to the extent that she couldn't walk or talk, then maybe we're talking close to that area," he said, referring to the judgment Esensten proposed.

Cross-Complaints Dismissed

Dingman had filed cross-complaints with the court alleging that the Jaureguis were negligent and that Ricardo Jauregui shared responsibility with the city because he left the dog with family members when he was not around, rather than keeping it kenneled.

But Judge Joseph R. Kalin dismissed those complaints Wednesday, citing "not an iota" of evidence against the Jaureguis.

In a brief defense presentation, Dingman called two witnesses to the stand. His main witness, dog trainer David Reaver, testified about the "pack" instinct of dogs and said that Zahn was probably only disciplining the child as he would a puppy.

It was unclear in Reaver's testimony, however, what might have motivated the dog to attempt to discipline the child.

Testimony on Dog Behavior

Reaver said that when disciplined, a puppy instinctively becomes submissive, and because a puppy's skin is tougher and more pliable than a child's, such a bite would probably do no harm.

Dingman said Zahn assumed the role of "pack leader" because Jauregui, at the time, was spending less time with his family, and the dog was left to believe it was in charge. The dog, he contends, was not overly aggressive or vicious.

"The dog sees the family members as all members of the pack," Dingman said during a recess in the trial. "If that dog wanted to inflict injury, that child would have had the flesh torn off her bones."

But Dingman's theory wrongly downplayed the severity of the incident, Esensten told the jury last Thursday. "The injury was horrible; the event was horrible, and that's why you have to award a large amount in this case," Esensten said.

The jury began deliberating shortly after noon that day and returned Monday.

Negligence Alleged

During the trial, Esensten argued that the city is completely liable for the injuries caused by the dog and was negligent because it accepted the dog from a Whittier resident without knowing anything about its background.

Two years after Zahn was accepted, the city established a policy requiring full knowledge and disclosure of a dog's history before it is accepted in the program.

Esensten said the policy change indicated that the city was negligent.

During his closing argument, Esensten displayed photographs taken of Jennifer by a plastic surgeon within an hour of the attack as well as photographs showing her recovery through 1986.

Today, she has several small scars on her face, legs and buttocks. Her doctor testified that she may need further surgery when she is a teen-ager. All her medical costs have been paid by insurance, and any future surgery costs also will be covered, attorneys told the jurors after the verdict.

2nd Lawsuit by Officer

The lawsuit is the second filed by Ricardo Jauregui against the City of Glendale.

In 1986, a federal court ruled that the Glendale Police Department had discriminated against Jauregui by passing him up for promotion in favor of less-qualified Anglo officers. The judge ordered that Jauregui be promoted to the rank of sergeant, and that pay back to February, 1985, be awarded.

The city lost an appeal of that decision in July and agreed to follow the judge's order.

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