A dog-bite trial in Cobb County settled for $450,000 before closing arguments Wednesday, ending a case in which the owners of “hound dog” named Winston claimed he had never bitten anyone, including plaintiff Greg Summerhill, who underwent two knee surgeries subsequent to the incident.
Plaintiffs attorney Michael Rafi said the defense’s highest offer to settle pretrial was $100,000.
“Their position from start to finish was that the dog never bit Greg, despite the testimony of three eyewitnesses, photos of the punctures in his knee, and testimony from the doctor at Emory that he had bite marks,” said Rafi, who handled the case with Rafi Law Firm partner Arthur York.
Key to the defense were assertions that Summerhill stayed on the job after the bite, which Rafi confirmed.
“He worked as best he could the rest of the day,” said Rafi. “The big disagreement was whether he had carried furniture and boxes upstairs, and the other three witnesses—who had nothing to lose either way—said he didn’t do that.”
The dog was on a leash being held by co-defendant Angela Garcia-Ferrer, Rafi said. She offered Summerhill a bandage afterward, he added.
Defense attorney Richard Eason Jr., who handled the case with Eason, Kennedy & Crawford partner David Crawford, declined to comment.
According to Rafi and court filings, Summerhill, now 51, was part of a crew moving the belongings of Ramone and Angela Garcia-Ferrer into a house in Marietta in 2014 when the incident occurred.
Rafi said the woman had two dogs on leashes on the sidewalk in front of the house, one of which was Winston, a hound mix that Rafi said weighed about 45 pounds.
“We said they were retractable leashes, she said they were solid [non-expandable] leashes,” Rafi said.
Rafi said witnesses testified that Winston had jumped up and strained at his leash, and when Garcia-Ferrer released tension and said “meet the men,” Winston bit Summerhill.
Summerhill worked the rest of the day that Saturday and called in Monday to say he couldn’t work. He called the Emory Clinic the next day and booked a visit for the following week, the earliest time he could get.
Summerhill underwent two arthroscopic knee surgeries and rehabilitation, running up more than $161,000 in medical bills. Rafi said he is likely to need a knee replacement in the future as well.
According to the defense portion of the pretrial order, Winston was on a solid 6-foot leash “under the complete control” of Garcia-Ferrer, and “never moved” toward Summerhill.
Winston had never before been the subject of any complaint, and “no one called animal control, the police or reported to any doctor of emergency room” afterward, it said.
“Garcia-Ferrer never saw any bite, wound, blood or injury of any kind,” the order said.
Rather, it argued, Summerhill’s degenerative knee problems were the result of years of heavy lifting and moving furniture.
Rafi filed a negligence suit in Cobb County State Court naming the Garcia-Ferrers as defendants in 2016.
Their IDS Property Casualty homeowners’ policy carried a $500,000 limit, Rafi said, and in September 2016 he sent an offer of judgment to settle the case for $190,000.
Last November, shortly after a failed mediation before Gino Brogdon Jr. at Miles Mediation, the defense responded with an offer of $100,000.
Rafi said Summerhill reached a “very favorable” settlement on his workers’ compensation claim, “and that gave us the ability to push this forward for him.”
Trial began Monday before Judge Carl Bowers.
Rafi said his arguments emphasized the testimony of Summerhill’s three fellow movers—two of whom were from out of state and had never met him before—and his doctor.
“We told the jury the case was ‘they said v. she said,’” Rafi said. “They all had the same story, and the jury would have had to disbelieve all those witnesses, and we thought that was unreasonable.”
The case settled Wednesday as the parties were preparing for a charge conference.
“I have to say the defense lawyers worked extremely hard,” said Rafi. “They were presented with very tough facts and did the best they possibly could with them.”