Three days after , the state legislature’s Joint Judicial Committee gave a unanimous favorable opinion on a new bill that would hold dog owners liable for damage caused by their pets, including veterinary and/or burial costs if that damage is inflicted upon another “companion animal.”
The proposed legislation answers many of the concerns brought forth by the Carcaldi family, Benji’s owners, who asked for tighter regulations on dog owners after their two teenage children were witness to the brutal mauling by a neighborhood Rottweiler.
The bill, SB246, was first conceived of in 2008 after a Rottweiler attacked a black Labrador Retriever in the town of Goshen. State Sen. Andrew Roraback (R-30), who lives in Goshen but also serves Brookfield as part of his district, put forward the bill three years ago, however it has yet to make it to the floor of the House for a vote.
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“The fact that something is a good idea doesn’t always mean it will pass,” Roraback said, explaining that there are now less than 10 days left in the legislative session to act on the bill or it will have to start at square one in the next session.
State Rep. David Scribner (R-107), whose district is largely made up of Brookfield, signed on as the House co-sponsor of the bill after speaking with the Carcaldi family about their tragic loss.
“It appears as though things were properly handled” from a legal standpoint, Scribner said, though he can sympathize with the Carcaldis and would like to see the law changed.
Scribner said his family pet was also the victim of dog-on-dog violence while on a walk in Brookfield a few years ago, though, “luckily there were no serious injuries.”
Changing the Law
Under current Connecticut law (not to be changed in this bill), the designated municipal official, in this case the regional animal control officer, and the owner who sustained the damage decide on an estimate and come to a consensus on reimbursement. (If they cannot agree, a “disinterested third party” would be enlisted.) However, as far as damages to companion animals, such as dogs, the law only covered the replacement cost.
According to a statement to the legislature written by Goshen resident Charlene Dutka, the owner of the black Lab, Maxx survived his attack, however the medical bills were over $20,000.
“The insurance agent [of the offending dog owners] offered us $200 for Maxx and $800 for trauma,” Dutka wrote, with the $200 considered Maxx’s “replacement value.”
While Maxx lived for another two years after the attack, he required extensive surgery, including having his ear reattached, limbs amputated and metal plates put in his jaw.
“The representative told me I needed to think of Maxx as personal property, similar to an old car,” Dutka continued, “When the repairs exceed the value of the car, the car is totaled.”
Under the proposed bill, were a companion animal attacked, the owner would be liable for “expenses of veterinary care, the fair monetary value of the companion animal and burial expenses for the companion animal."
A Bad Breed?
In an interview shortly after the attack on Benji in Brookfield, mother Margaret Carcaldi said she also wanted state legislators to consider requiring higher insurance premiums for owners of certain dog breeds, however this was not a part of SB246.
There wasn’t much support in the legislature for breed-specific language, according to Scribner, who added that he was not in favor of it, either.
“Any breed of dog can become aggressive, just like human beings,” he said, though, he admitted, “some are more aggressive by nature.”
“It’s certainly a very fair request,” Roraback said, though unnecessary, as the proposed legislation as it stands would still hold the offending owners fully liable, regardless of their insurance coverage or the breed of the offending dog.
Roraback said he generally refrains from speculating about what the General Assembly will do, however he is “cautiously optimistic the third time’s the charm” and the bill will make it to the floor for a vote before the end of the legislative session.