Earlier this summer in Macomb County Circuit Court, Sheriff Deputy Kevin Szlaga was sued by Gail Foster of Kentwood, Michigan after Szlaga's police dog, Zeke, bit Ms. Foster on the forearm. The Michigan Court of Appeals overturned the lawsuit in a 2-1 decision claiming Szlaga has governmental immunity since he was operating within the course of his employment.
The dog-bite accident occurred at Szlaga’s cottage in Clare County while both Szlaga and Zeke were off duty. According to Macomb Daily, Foster was attending a bonfire that Szlaga was hosting for the new neighbors in the area and tried to reach around Szlaga’s wife to pet Zeke. Zeke, who was tethered to the porch of the cottage at the time, bit Foster. As a result of the bite, Foster required skin grafts and has been left with two permanent scars. The lawsuit asserts that Foster was attacked, but Macomb County attorneys state that she contributed to the dog bite by entering Zeke’s tethered range.
Foster’s attorney, Glenn Saltsman maintained that immunity should not be applied in this instance because it wasn't a governmental function in which Szlaga and Zeke were exercising their police duties. Since the bite happened while on vacation and on private property, Saltsman argued that Szalaga was acting as a private citizen despite the dog being county property.
County attorneys on the other hand, stuck by their convictions that Szlaga and by extension the county, are protected by governmental immunity and that if Szlaga were to be sued for anything, it would be gross negligence. Since Foster is found to be contributing to the bite and could have been informed of the dog’s history due to public records, the attorneys believe the suit should be dropped and that it should be noted that Zeke is the legal cause, laying liability on him and not on Szlaga.
After the court's findings were revealed, Judge Deborah Servitto seemed to be in disagreement by giving her opinion on the case stating that there were too many unanswered questions about Officer Szalaga and Zeke’s relationship.
The CDC recommends that people shouldn't pet dogs that are unfamiliar to them. With 4.5 million dog bites occurring each year in the United States, it is unfortunate that one of them involves a policemen and his service dog. If you or somebody you know has been a victim of a dog bite, call The Michigan Law Firm, PLLC. Our attorneys are highly experienced in pursuing dog bite cases and will work hard to give you the help you need. Call us today, at 844.4MI.FIRM for a free consultation.