Benjamin Ancona
Benjamin Ancona ()

Robert Tofeldt and Lucille Tofeldt v. Dianne Viruet-Reyes and Jose Hernandez: A Newington couple who were attacked by a pair of angry bullmastiff dogs was awarded $309,000 following a bench trial recently.

Around 2 p.m. on Sept. 17, 2010, Robert Tofeldt walked out of his barn when, according to his lawyer, he noticed a large shadow behind him. He was suddenly jumped by a large male bullmastiff from behind.

“It was an ugly, ugly day,” said Benjamin Ancona Jr., of Ancona & Siegel in Newington. “This guy was almost killed.”

According to the police report, the dog bit down on the man’s left buttock while another large female bullmastiff bit his lower right leg. The dogs then let go and Tofeldt said he stood there in shock. He knew they were his neighbor’s dogs and said they had always been friendly.

The dogs then jumped on him again and knocked him to the ground. They then kept nipping and biting at him while he lay there trying to “protect” his “vital areas from the dogs,” he told police.

Tofeldt’s wife, Lucille, heard the commotion, saw what was happening and began screaming. Tofeldt told her to throw him a 2×4 piece of framing lumber and then go back inside and call for help, which she did.

Ancona said, however, that she too was bit as she came outside with the lumber. She suffered a bite wound to the hand.

Ancona said Lucille Tofeldt hit one of the dogs between the eyes with the large piece of wood, dazing the dog for a moment before it continued the attack.

Newington police soon arrived and the large male dog charged at them. The officers shot the dog; the dog went down for a short time and got back up and attempted to attack the officers once again. They then fired two more shots, killing the animal.

“Newington police did a great job,” said Ancona. “They responded immediately. If they didn’t come as fast as they did, [Tofeldt] would be dead.”

Ancona said Tofeldt suffered 19 puncture wounds in the attack and was put under anesthesia when receiving treatment. He said Tofeldt twice had to go back for further medical treatment because of wounds that became infected.

The wounds eventually healed, Ancona noted. But not surprisingly, Tofeldt is leery of dogs now; especially large ones.

Ancona said no criminal charges were lodged against the dogs’ owners.

Tests for rabies on the dogs came back negative, he noted.

The second dog was caught by police and quarantined for a time. A court hearing was later held with the state Department of Agriculture. Ancona argued that the dog should be put down. The dog’s owners, Dianne Viruet-Reyes and Jose Hernandez, argued that the incident was an anomaly and wanted the dog back. Ultimately, it was determined that the dog should be put down.

The Tofeldts later sued the dog owners, who rented the property next door to them. The Tofeldts also sued property owner Janet Viruet. The claims against Viruet settled out of court. Robert Tofeldt recovered $50,000 and his wife collected $25,000.

The case against the dogs’ owners proceeded to trial before Judge Cynthia Swienton in New Britain Superior Court. The two sides agreed to a bench trial.

The defendants were represented by New Britain attorney Thomas Tabellione.

According to court documents, Hernandez defaulted for failure to appear in February 2013. Viruet-Reyes did not appear for trial, but Tabellione still participated in the trial.

Tabellione had requested a continuance for the trial because he had not heard from his client in some time. The judge denied the request. Tabellione then moved to withdraw himself from the case because of his lack of hearing from his client, but that motion too was denied. Tabellione did not respond to an interview request for this story.

Ancona explained that the state’s dog bite statute is one of strict liability. So if a dog bites you, the owner is liable. However, the defense can try to show that the attack was provoked in that the victim was trespassing or tormenting the animal in some way. In this case, Ancona said the defense was unable to prove that his clients had provoked the attack.

“There was no evidence of that,” said Ancona.

In a written ruling late last month, Judge Swienton ruled that the defendants were liable for the Tofeldts’ injuries from the attack. The judge awarded $258,735 to Robert Tofeldt and $51,154 to Lucille Tofeldt.

Swienton noted that although Lucille Tofeldt’s injuries weren’t as severe, she still required a tetanus shot and treatment and the attack caused her anxiety, sleeplessness and a fear of dogs.

Ancona had sought $1 million in damages.

Overall, Ancona was pleased with the outcome. He said the dog attack was a surprise to his clients, though he said perhaps something in the dogs’ upbringing made them prone to violence.

“It really was an aberration. The dogs just snapped,” said Ancona. “There was no history of violence or aggression and then that one day they decided they were going to take out Mr. Tofeldt and that was it. They were determined. Maybe they didn’t get their kibbles and bits the night before.”•