LACONIA — A Sanbornton man has filed a civil suit against a nonprofit animal rescue claiming he was “viciously attacked and mauled” by a dog his wife agreed to foster from Live and Let Live Farm in Chichester just 29 hours after bringing it home.
In a complaint filed in Belknap County Superior Court, Robert Charter alleges he suffered lasting damage to his hands, including a displaced fracture in a finger joint, when he was repeatedly bitten by a 60-pound, 18-month-old female German shepherd named Mia on Nov. 15, 2015.
New Hampshire’s “strict liability” dog bite law holds dog owners responsible for injuries their dogs inflict in a wide range of situations. Among the issues being litigated in this case is ownership of the dog. Under state law, “any person to whom ... damage may be occasioned by a dog not owned or kept by him shall recover such damage of the person who owns or keeps the dog.”
Charter’s attorney, Samantha M. Jewett, argued during a hearing on Monday that under the terms of the foster agreement that Charter’s wife, Mary Charter, signed, Live and Let Live Farm retains ownership of the dog and is therefore liable.
Attorney Gary M. Burt, representing Live and Let Live Farm, argued that Robert Charter exercised sufficient custody and control over the dog to qualify him as its keeper or possessor.
The complaint alleges that Live and Let Live Farm was negligent in failing to warn of the dog’s “aggressive or vicious propensity.” The plaintiff claims the dog was surrendered by a previous owner to a shelter in South Carolina and that it was then transferred to Live and Let Live Farm in the fall of 2015.
According to the complaint, Charter went to retrieve the dog after she ran out of his yard and down the road. He placed his left hand under her collar and as he led her back toward his home, a car passed by, causing her to spin, the suit says.
The dog starting “biting and aggressively mauling” his left hand, the complaint alleges, and Charter was unable to free his hand from the collar. He ended up on the ground and put his right hand out in an attempt to stop the attack and to try to free his trapped hand, he claims in the suit. The dog allegedly repeatedly bit his right hand until he was able to get his left hand out of the collar, according to the complaint.
In the days that followed, Charter described the incident to an emergency room physician, a surgeon and the Sanbornton Police Department.
Later, after participating in therapy to address his anxiety, Charter’s recollection of whether his hand was twisted in the dog’s collar changed.
After Charter spoke briefly during a deposition about the therapy technique being used by his social worker, the defense sought to preclude Charter from testifying about “recovered memories” concerning the incident, asserting he cannot prove they are reliable, without expert testimony.
Judge James D. O’Neill III previously ruled that Charter’s testimony about his recollection of the incident is admissible.
“The plaintiff is allowed to testify as to his recollection of the events, even if there are inconsistencies in his recollection in the immediate days following the incident and at trial,” the judge ruled. Charter now recalls his hand actually being in the dog’s teeth versus being caught in the dog’s collar as it bit him.
The jury, O’Neill has ruled, will also be able to hear evidence that Charter was “comparatively at fault” for the incident for grabbing an unfamiliar dog’s collar and attempting to walk it over a significant distance.
Following the mishap, Charter was taken to Concord Hospital, where he worked as a security guard. He underwent emergency surgery to put pins in his left hand to stabilize the fractures in his third finger. He was out of work for four months before returning to light duty.
The suit claims the injuries have caused the loss of the fine motor skills necessary for him to continue his side job of small-engine repair, and that the incident was so traumatic that he has been diagnosed with acute stress disorder.
According to documents in the court file, the plaintiff has made a demand for $650,000. The defense has offered $50,000 to settle the case which had been scheduled to go to trial late last month.