Society

Pit Bulls Kill NY Man, 90; Judge Tosses $7-million Wrongful Death Suit against City

| by Denise A Justin

Henry Piotrowski, 90, a World War II veteran, died on August 17, 2008, from a brutal mauling by his neighbor’s Pit Bulls six weeks earlier in his own backyard in Port Richmond.  Staten Island Supreme Court Justice Thomas P. Aliotta issued a ruling this week rejecting a $7 million dollar suit filed by the family against the City for wrongful death. 

Judge Thomas Aliotta stated that the city had no "special duty" to protect Henry Piotrowski from the dogs that killed him, even though several 911 calls were made to the city earlier about the unleashed dogs, according to court documents.

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Judge Aliotta’s decision was reported on August 18, 2012, affirming that a municipality can't be found at fault in such instances unless the individual attacked establishes a "special relationship" with it to provide protection "beyond that owed to the public at large."

THE ATTACK AND CONVICTIONS

The savage attack occurred when two Pit Bulls, Brutus and Popeye, who lived on an adjoining property, got loose and inflicted ultimately fatal wounds on Piotrowski in the yard of his home on John Street.  

The Pit Bulls were owned by a convicted rapist named James McNair, 32, and Kim DiPrima, 41, who lived around the corner on Newark Avenue but whose property abutted that of Mr. Piotrowski. Both were indicted on felony assault and other charges for failing to keep the dogs restrained.  After the attack, both Pit Bulls were euthanized.

Henry Piotrowski was a retired shipyard crane operator. The injuries he suffered were so massive that they resulted in the amputation of his leg, and he never recovered enough to leave in Richmond University Medical Center's intensive-care unit, according to New York Daily News .

In 2009, DiPrima pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter and got five years' probation. McNair pleaded guilty to second-degree assault and was sentenced to three years in prison, the Staten Island Advance reported.

McNair, a registered sex offender, was also sentenced to a concurrent one to three year sentence for failing to notify authorities about a chance of address, the Advance reported.

WRONGFUL-DEATH LAWSUIT FILED

After his death, Piotrowski's niece, Elaine Sutton, filed a $7-million wrongful death lawsuit against the city, the NYPD and the city Health Department in state Supreme Court, St. George. Ms. Sutton is administrator of her uncle's estate, silive.com reports. She alleged the defendants were negligent in not adequately responding to prior complaints made by her uncle's neighbors about the dogs.

Her attorney, Michael V. Gervasi, an associate in the West Brighton firm of Russo, Scamardella & D'Amato, maintained that police, on at least two occasions, had investigated complaints about the dogs and knew they had chewed through a corner of the fence in Piotrowski's back yard and entered his property, according to silive.com.

State Supreme Court Judge Thomas Aliotta’s ruling this week determined that that the city had no "special duty" to protect Henry Piotrowski from the dogs that eventually killed him, even though several 911 calls were made about the Pit Bulls being unleashed and roaming loose in the neighborhood, court documents said.

THE IMPORTANCE OF FILING COMPLAINTS REGARDING LOOSE/VICIOUS DOGS

Judge Aliota’s decision provides warning on how important it is for all concerned members of a community to continue to make and document complaints regarding loose dogs and concerns about potentially dangerous behavior.  In this case, the judge ruled that the city is not liable for the death of a man mauled by a neighbor's pit bulls, despite other residents' complaints to authorities about the dogs.

Aliotta said that because the complaints were not made by the victim, the defense could not prove police had any contact with Piotrowski and a "special duty" to protect him from the dogs.

However, according to Gervasi, one of the witnesses said they specifically mentioned being worried about Piotrowski's safety because the dogs would roam in his yard. "One of the witnesses specifically referenced Mr. Piotrowski," he said. "The courts still won't recognize the city's negligence."

BASIS OF JUDGE ALIOTA’S DECISION

According to reports, in this case, neither the victim, Henry Piotrowski, nor a member of his immediate household had lodged any of the nine complaints about the dogs to police, the judge said.

"Absent a special relationship, a municipality may not be held liable for injuries caused by a breach of duty owed to the public at large, e.g., to provide police protection," Aliotta wrote.

According to court papers, neighbors complained nine times to 911 about unleashed dogs roaming in the vicinity of Piotrowski's home. The complaints, which pertained to McNair's dogs, were lodged during the three months preceding the attack. One complainant was a second cousin of one of Piotrowski's nieces, said court papers stated.

Aliotta concluded that no special relationship existed in which Piotrowski could have expected protection beyond that given to other citizens, because that distant relative wasn't a member of the victim's household.  Therefore, his or her call to police didn't create the requisite "direct contact" between Piotrowski and the defendants needed to establish liability, the judge opined.

Aliotta said he was well aware of the "disastrous consequences" for Piotrowski and his family. But he noted the court must be mindful of legal precedent as well as the future consequences of each of its decisions.

Michael Gervasi, attorney for Piotrowski's family, responded regarding the ruling, "It's disappointing… It's sad that so many people had to complain about the same danger," according to dnainfo.com.

Ann Broderick senior counsel in the city Law Department's Tort Division: "Though the circumstances of this case are very tragic, we believe the court reached the correct decision under the law."
Sources:

http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20120816/port-richmond/judge-tosses-wrongful-death-suit-for-staten-island-man-killed-by-pit-bulls#ixzz24A0l5kcu

http://www.silive.com/news/index.ssf/2012/08/staten_island_judge_city_is_no.html#incart_hbx

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/$m.local.contentUrl#ixzz24A7OYiDq

http://www.silive.com/northshore/index.ssf/2009/11/post_5.html