Law Office of Lowell Steiger

Pit Bull Fatal Attack: Criminal Liability? Civil Liability? Or Both?

Author: Lowell Steiger

Published On: August 26, 2013

Two year old Jacob Bisbee was mauled to death by three pit bulls (often considered a dangerous breed) owned by his
step-grandfather, Steven Hayashi. The tragedy occurred in 2010. According to Contra Costa County prosecuting attorney Mary Knox:

  1. Hayashi repeatedly ignored pleas by his wife and Jacob’s father to remove his five pit bulls from the home the extended family shared on Trailcreek Court.
  2. July 22, 2010: Hayashi was designated as the caretaker for Jacob and his four year old brother while his wife slept after a night shift.
  3. Hayashi went out to play tennis with his son, leaving Jacob and the brother unsupervised.
  4. Hayashi did not lock the door to the garage where the pit bulls were kept. He knew the boys could uopen the door but they usually stayed in their room.
  5. Jacob wandered into the garage and found three of the five pit bulls (the other two were in the yard)

The legal question to be answered is not whether Hayashi intended for this tragedy to happen but whether the dog attack constituted a crime. Hayashi is currently being tried for involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment. If found guilty, he could face up to 10 years in prison.

In a jailhouse interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Hayashi acknowledged that he had ignored signs which would warn him of the dogs’ dangerous propensities. Those signs included one of the dogs killing his Chihuahua.

At the preliminary hearing, Judge Clare Maier said that there was not enough evidence to support a murder charge because there was “scant evidence” that Hayashi’s dogs had previously attacked humans.

Hayashi is seeking acquittal and is being represented by attorney David Cohen. Over Cohen’s objections, Knox opened the trial last week by showing photos taken at a hospital of the little boy’s disfigured body.

Cohen was quoted as saying “The D.A.’s case is all about the terrible photos and a terrible tragedy and that somebody’s got to pay. This family and my client have suffered tremendously. He certainly didn’t intend for this to happen.”

This is certainly a tragedy. Whether Hayashi’s negligence will rise to the level of a guilty verdict is a question to be decided during this trial.

In civil court, someone in Hayashi’s shoes could be sued for wrongful death based on both theories of negligence and a statutory liability.

In my practice I’ve represented, and continue to represent, many victims of dog attacks. This is a tragedy that could have, and should have, been avoided.

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