(CN) - A West Virginia circuit court judge erred when he dismissed a lawsuit filed against county officials by a grieving widow who says their negligence led to the dog-mauling death of her 70-year-old husband, the state Supreme Court of Appeals ruled.
As recounted in the May 18 ruling, it is undisputed that Lowell Bowden was viciously attacked by four or five pit bulls on Nov. 27, 2009, while he was taking a walk near his home in Landside, West Virginia.
According to court documents, two hunters, a man and his daughter happened on the scene and at first thought the pit bulls were attacking another animal. Moving in closer, they realized, to their horror and disbelief, that the dogs were tearing into an elderly man.
The hunters scared off most of the dogs by firing a gunshot into the air. One pit bill initially refused to back off, and attempted to intimidate the hunters by growling and bearing its teeth before stalking off.
The hunters said Bowden was “maimed beyond recognition, with no facial features remaining and other horrific disfigurement.”
He later died of his injuries.
The pit bulls involved in the attack were kept at the home of Kim Blankenship, and four of the dogs were apparently were owned by her son, Justin.
The remaining dog, a black-and-white pit bull named Echo, was in the care of Justin Blankenship and was allegedly owned by Anna Hughes and Mose Christian.
In a complaint filed the Monroe County Circuit Court, Dreama Bowden, Lowell's widow, says she called the county and its dog warden, Patricia Green, to complain about the dangerous dogs being kept in the Blankenship home, and that Green assured her the county "would take care of it."
Her husband's death, Bowden said, was a direct result of the county allowing the dogs to remain at large.
Monroe County Circuit Judge Robert Irons dismissed Bowden's claims in two separate orders, the first of which finding that the widow has failed to "establish a disputed issue of material fact in relation to the special relationship exception to the public duty doctrine." The second order then dismissed all of her remaining claims.
But in ruling written by Justice Robin Jean Davis, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals held Judge Irons got it wrong, reversed his dismissals and remanded the case for further proceedings.
Davis said because the county had been put on notice of the dangerous condition and Green had assured Dream Bowden that the county would take care of the situation, Monroe County had assumed a duty to act on the Bowdens' behalf.
The Bowden estate is represented by Michael Olivio of Charleston, West Virginia. Monroe County is represented by J. Victor Flanagan of Pullin, Fowler, Flanagan, Brown & Poe of Beckley, West Virginia.
Representatives of the parties could not be reached for comment.
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