Ohio Warden On the Hook for Fatal Dog Attack

     (CN) — A dog warden must face a wrongful death lawsuit from the estate of a woman who complained about her neighbors’ dogs 13 times before they killed her, an Ohio appeals court ruled.
     Klonda Richey lived in Dayton, Ohio, at the time of her death in 2014. She began to have trouble with her neighbors’ “two large-breed pit bulls, mastiffs, or cane corsos” in 2012, according to court records.
     Mark Kumpf was the dog warden in Montgomery County. Earlier in his career, he emphasized enforcement, writing an average of 100 to 150 citations per month.
     When Kumpf took the Montgomery County job in 2006, he changed from “enforcement mode” to “education mode.”
     Only 3.4 percent of calls resulted in citations in the two years before Richey’s death, according to an Ohio Court of Appeals ruling filed last week. Also, only 12 of the county’s 60,000 dogs were considered “nuisance” or “dangerous” dogs in 2013.
     Richey called the county’s animal resource center 13 times about the dogs belonging to Andrew Nason and Julie Custer, but all of her calls were sent to voicemail.
     In one of her calls, Richey said Nason “let his aggressive pit/mastiff run loose while she was walking to work and threatened to let it have her for a treat,” her estate claims.
     Richey also reportedly complained that the mailman refused to deliver mail on her street and that a pit bull owner had taken his dog off his chain and ordered it to attack her.
     Animal control officers would sometimes visit the neighbors’ house, knock on their door and issue warnings, the July 29 ruling states.
     Richey was on her own property on Feb. 7, 2014, when the two dogs attacked and killed her. Nason had just obtained new registrations for the dogs one week earlier.
     Barbara Schneider, the executor of Richey’s estate, sued Kumpf for personal injury and wrongful death a year later. She claimed that Kumpf should have declared the dogs to be nuisances and had them impounded during a period in which they were unlicensed.
     Kumpf argued that the case should be dismissed because only dog owners, keepers or harborers can be found liable. The trial court agreed.
     However, the Second District Ohio Court of Appeals reversed the decision last week and remanded the case for trial after reading “hundreds of Ohio cases” on the subject of liability.
     Judge Jeffrey M. Welbaum stated Schneider’s case should be argued on some level, rather than being dismissed.
     “This issue is more appropriately suited for resolution at the trial court level, perhaps on summary judgment, particularly since the parties did not fully discuss this issue in the specific context of whether Kumpf’s actions, fairly read, could fulfill the requirements for finding the existence of a special relationship, and, therefore, a duty for purposes of tort liability,” Welbaum wrote.
     Judge Jeffrey E. Froelich wrote a concurring opinion in which he agreed that the case should not have been dismissed.
     “I further agree that there are other legal and factual issues involved in this case that may need to be resolved in the trial court,” he wrote. “However, I do not necessarily agree with any implication in our opinion as to what these issues are or how they should be characterized and, therefore, concur in judgment only.”

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