Jury settles record- setting dog-bite case
$856,000 awarded in Kahala dog-bite case for attack on 2 1/2-year old boy
By Debra Barayuga[email protected]
A Circuit Court jury found a Kahala woman negligent for failing to keep her dog on a leash on Mother's Day 2005, causing it to attack a 2 1/2-year old boy.
The jury deliberated for less than three hours before awarding Keeton Manguso and his mother $856,000, which included $500,000 in punitive damages, against dog owner Mariko Bereday -- a record in a Hawaii dog-bite case, according to plaintiff's attorneys.
The jury found not only that Bereday was negligent, but that her negligence was a legal cause of the boy's injuries.
Bereday, who was present during the attack at Kahala Beach, continued to deny that her dog bit the boy and said afterward that photos of his injuries were computer-enhanced. She plans to appeal.
Bereday's accusations upset the boy's mother, Veronica Tomooka, who said the lawsuit was never about money.
"It was strictly to have her see what we went through and have a jury judge her," Tomooka said.
Bereday, based on her comments, still doesn't get it, Tomooka said.
Her son, now 5 and in kindergarten, has healed from his physical injuries but refuses to play or be near large dogs. "He won't be in the same room or same side of the street," she said. He has scars on his back and hip.
Plaintiff's attorney James Bickerton said Bereday had been cited once and warned five times previously to keep her dogs on a leash but disregarded them.
Tomooka was with her son and daughter on the narrow strip of beach on May 8, 2005, the same time Bereday was walking her pack of dogs. Wary of the dogs, Tomooka, with her son next to her, glanced at her daughter to make sure she was close by when the leader of the pack, a 100-pound Rottweiler, knocked her son to the ground and grabbed him in its jaws, Bickerton said.
During closing statements, Bickerton likened it to an adult being in the jaws of a grizzly bear.
A former University of Hawaii football player who happened to be on the beach unsuccessfully attempted to pry the boy from the dog's grip. He finally punched the dog in the head, causing it to let go.
The jury was not apprised of another incident that occurred five days later. Bereday was back on the beach with the same dog when it attacked and severely injured a 4-year-old girl. A lawsuit in that case is set for trial in March.
Had the defense put on a case, they would have called an expert to testify about the nature of the dog, which Bereday insists is docile and not aggressive. "She didn't know the dog could do this," said her attorney Paul Yamamura.
Before the Manguso attack, there was no evidence of the dog biting anyone, Bickerton said.
But as far back as March 2003, Bereday received notice from the Hawaiian Humane Society about her dogs' aggressive behavior after her dog zeroed in on a mother and her daughter at Kahala Beach and was about to charge, Bickerton said.
A bystander familiar with dogs waded in, grabbed the girl and brought her to safety, he said.
Bereday, who used to run a wedding business that catered to Japanese and mainland visitors who want to get married here, insists this case is politically motivated, a conspiracy and "all about the money -- which I don't have."
According to Bickerton, Bereday is half owner of a company that owns properties in Kahala and in Niu Valley.
Bereday maintains her dog does not bite and is now crippled and overweight.
A state judge had ordered the dog, Bobo, be destroyed after Bereday was convicted last year of failing to control a dangerous dog -- a petty misdemeanor -- and sentenced to five days in prison and a year of probation.
District Judge James Dannenberg cited her refusal to take responsibility for the dog attacks in ordering jail time. The order to destroy the dog was stayed pending her appeal. The dog was restricted to Bereday's home.http://starbulletin.com/2007/10/13/news/story03.html