After rejecting a $21,400 arbitration award, the insurance company defending a Tri-Cities family in the shooting of a neighbor’s dog now has lost a jury trial that awarded $36,475 to the neighbor, and Friday also has agreed to attorney fees that push the total to $100,000.
Near a flower bed in front of Jim Anderson’s home in Eltopia, an unincorporated farm town just north of Pasco, is where Chucky the English springer spaniel is buried.
Anderson, 56, never married, doesn’t have kids and describes himself as a loner.
But he did have Chucky.
Chucky was his kid, his best friend, someone that Anderson felt knew his every mood.
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“He was one in a million,” says Anderson. “I never did think he was a dog.”
Anderson placed a wooden cross with his dog’s name at the gravesite. Every day he is reminded of Chucky’s painful and needless death.
Now, Anderson has gotten a kind of justice, nearly 2½ years later.
He had filed a civil lawsuit against a neighbor and his family for the shooting death of Chucky.
On Aug. 3, a Franklin County Superior Court jury found in favor of Anderson. And on Friday, the final figure arrived at $100,000.
Of that sizable amount, the jury awarded $36,475 directly to Anderson for damages, “intrinsic value” and “emotional distress.”
“I believe it’s the largest jury verdict in Washington for the death of a dog,” said Anderson’s attorney, Adam Karp, who confirmed the amount of the settlement.
Much of the rest of that $100,000 could have been avoided if the defense hadn’t decided to appeal an earlier arbitration award to Anderson.
That initial award, back in August 2015, was for $21,400.
The arbitrator wrote, “Frankly, I am convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Chucky was mortally wounded when the defendants were target shooting … I think it is quite likely that the youngest boy fired at Chucky when his father wasn’t looking …”
But Scott Hayles and his family, and Liberty Mutual, the company funding the defense through his farm insurance, decided to challenge it.
The appeal started running the attorney hours, and the hours added up and up.
Karp says he put more than 180 hours into the case after the arbitration was appealed. He charges $375 an hour.
Then there was expert testimony, such as the gun-dog trainer who testified that Chucky was so well trained that he was worth $10,500.
When you lose such an appeal, you can end up paying the other side’s attorney costs, which is what happened here.
It was an unusual case in farm and hunting country, where presumably the locals are more used to witnessing life and death of the animals among them.
Says Anderson about the award, “I was really surprised. I didn’t think they’d value Chucky nearly that high.”
Jurors find fraud
Most of the jurors were dog owners.
They could relate.
Bill Grall, 71, a retired Pasco plumber, was the jury foreman.
“I have a Yorkie. She’s pretty smart. My animals have meant a lot to me. Dogs tug at your heartstrings,” he says.
Because it was a civil trial, only 10 of the 12 jurors needed to agree for a verdict.
Grall says it went 12-0 on all counts, including that “a fraud” was committed by the defendants about their involvement in Chucky’s death.
Chucky was killed by a pellet gun.
Dan Stowe, attorney for Liberty Mutual, says his clients didn’t have pellet guns.
“They were shooting clay pigeons with shotguns,” he said.
Grall said the jurors didn’t believe the defendants.
“There were no other people there,” Grall said about where Chucky was shot. “They knew all about it.”
Chucky was shot in the midafternoon.
He spent the night with his intestines torn open as Anderson searched for him.
In the morning, Anderson found Chucky. “He couldn’t even stand up.”
Chucky died at the veterinary hospital, age 7. He had come into Anderson’s life at 2 months old.
‘I’d make a deal with the devil to get him back. Give back the award, and my right arm,” Anderson says.
Day of the shooting
The remaining $63,525 of that $100,000 was decided on Friday in a settlement between Liberty Mutual and Karp for his time and costs.
Anderson wouldn’t have had his day in court if a friend hadn’t told him about Karp, who is based in Bellingham and is known as the “animal lawyer.” He advertises that he offers “tenacious representation for all species since 1999.”
In February 2013, Karp represented the Des Moines family that received a $51,000 settlement after police in that city shot and killed Rosie, a Newfoundland, with an assault rifle. That was a higher amount than what Anderson got, but it was a settlement, not a jury verdict.
In that case, the court also awarded Karp a little more than $50,000 in attorney fees.
Anderson said no local attorneys were interested in his case, and the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office had laughed him off. Sheriff J.D. Raymond said he was not sheriff at the time and everything he knows about the case came from news articles.
The jury did find Anderson 20 percent negligent in the case.
Chucky — who got his name from the horror movie when, as a puppy, he’d playfully attack Anderson’s foot when spun around on the hardwood floor — was a natural hunting dog, and a retriever, going after ducks, geese and pheasants.
Anderson said that Chucky went to investigate when he heard gunshots from the Hayles.
“It was like a magnet for him,” Anderson said. He said he took his four-wheeler to the hillside where he could see the target shooting.
He said Chucky was swimming in an irrigation canal right in front of the Hayles. Anderson said he waved at them, and the father waved back.
When the shooting stopped, Anderson expected Chucky to return home, as he always did. Anderson says the longest he and Chucky had ever been separated was four hours.
“He knew every inch of that land,” says Anderson.
What happened next, says Anderson, made him think something was not right.
Looking out his kitchen window, he said, he saw Hayles looking under a truck, a boat and a trailer that Anderson had on his property, as if searching for something.
He said that when he later called the Hayles, they told him a story about “three girls supposedly hitting a dog on the road.”
Through their attorney, the Hayles said they had no comment.
Krall says he and his fellow jurors found Anderson 20 percent negligent because he could have gotten Chucky home when he initially spotting him during the target shooting.
But the 80 percent part, well, when you’re target-shooting clay pigeons you’re supposed to be pointing the gun up, not at a dog.
Anderson was an iron worker for 30 years until he said an accident “busted my shoulder, busted my hip, broke my legs.” He now minds the family’s 580 acres, which includes rental housing and land leased for farming.
He has a new dog, a black mouth cur, a hunting dog that he named Gomer.
“He tries hard, but he’s not real smart,” says Anderson. He says he’ll never get another springer.
“No springer could live up to Chucky,” says Anderson.
Like when he’d ask Chucky for a pop can, and the dog would bring one back from the fridge.
Or when his elderly mom lived in the house next door, she’d put his mail and newspaper on her front porch, and Chucky would go fetch it.
“He just amazed me every day,” Anderson said.
The defense brief had argued that court rulings “generally advised” that loss of companionship from the death of a pet was not an “intrinsic value.”
In Franklin County Superior Court, the jurors listened for a full day to Anderson’s testimony.
A full day of Anderson tearing up by a poster-sized picture of Chucky.
A full day of Anderson explaining that dog and owner were so bonded that Chucky would have anxiety attacks if away from Anderson for too long. And probably the other way around, too.