Attorneys for a 46-year-old Pawcatuck man who was bitten repeatedly by a yellow Labrador retriever and suffered injuries to his right forearm and right upper thigh have settled the case for $320,000.
Michael Berk, an emergency room nurse at a Providence, Rhode Island, hospital, was attacked by the 2-year-old dog after he went to a neighbor’s house to pick up his young son from a play date in June 2016, according to Kara Burgarella, one of his attorneys. A lawsuit was filed in New London Superior Court in November 2016.
Berk had petted the dog without incident when he dropped off his son earlier at Lori Ann Rose’s home. He saw the dog with owner Stephen Freitas in the backyard when he went to pick up his son, said Burgarella, a partner with New London’s Faulkner & Graves. Rose is Freitas’ girlfriend.
The dog, named Buddy, was being held on a leash by Freitas, but Burgarella said that did not prevent the ensuing attack.
“My client went to pet the dog and, out of nowhere, the dog grabbed on to my client’s arms. There was blood all over the place and then the dog attacked again while my client took his hand and held onto his forearm to control the blood,” Burgarella told the Connecticut Law Tribune Wednesday. The dog, Burgarella said, then started biting Berk’s right leg.
“The attacks were in quick order, as it all happened in a matter of seconds,” Burgarella said. “Mr. Freitas was trying to control the dog the whole time.”
Berk ended up having 24 stitches on his forearm, his attorney said.
Attorneys for Rose and Freitas did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday, but in court papers they blamed Berk for the attack.
In court filings in April 2017, defense lawyers said there should be no liability on the part of Rose or Freitas. They wrote: “The plaintiff’s dog bite injuries and damages were the direct and proximate result of his own conduct in the following way: He was teasing, tormenting or abusing such dog.” The filings did not elaborate on how Berk was allegedly taunting the dog.
Burgarella countered that the basis for the defense claim was that Berk “came back to get his son wearing sunglasses and a hat. They were saying that was something the dog did not like. That was their claim. Mr. Freitas never told my client to not approach. The claim really had no merit to it.”
Burgarella said her biggest challenge in representing Berk “was that he was this tough guy.”
“He was in the medical field and retired from the Air Force. He had all of these issues with his arm and I really had to prepare him to articulate what he was feeling,” she said. “He wanted to downplay what had happened and was always saying that things were OK.”
Despite Berk’s reticence, Burgarella said the medical reports bolstered his case. For instance, they showed diminished grip strength, permanent pain, and discoloration of his injury sites after activities such as lifting or working in the yard.
At first, the two sides were far apart on the value of the case when they met May 24 for mediation in front of New London Superior Court Judge Robert Martin. The defense had offered $290,000, while Burgarella had filed an initial demand for $750,000. In the end, they settled on $320,000 on June 1.
“We were satisfied with the amount. It was the definition of the word fair.” Burgarella said. Berk will receive payment within a month, she said.
Of the agreed-on settlement, about $260,000 was paid by Pacific Specialty Insurance, which is Freitas’ home insurance policy carrier. And about $60,000 was paid by Integon National Insurance Co., the carrier for Rose.
Kevin Hines of Cheshire-based Nuzzo & Roberts represented Freitas and Jack Taylor of New Haven’s Wilson & Taylor represented Rose. Neither attorney responded to a request for comment Wednesday.