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June 11, 2011


Staff Writer

A resident is suing Delaware City for not protecting him from the dog attack that left him permanently disabled.

James Bright filed the civil lawsuit one year after he was attacked by five cane corso mastiff dogs owned by Virgil Mitchell III. Of the total 31 defendants named in the Bright v. Mitchell case, about half are city employees.

“The City of Delaware has known for years that Virgil Mitchell has kept vicious dogs,” said Bright’s attorney, Kim Doucher.

She said the municipality also knew of the dogs’ history of sending people to the hospital prior to attacking Bright, and did not enforce a court order forbidding Mitchell from keeping the dogs.

“The city knows (the dogs) were an obstacle. They know that nothing is going to rid this obstacle except city involvement,” said Doucher.

The attack “wasn’t a surprise,” she added. “In fact, it was an expectation.”

The accused city staff include city prosecutor Peter Ruffing, city manager Tom Homan, Delaware City Police Chief Russ Martin and Delaware City Police Administrative Sgt. Donald Claar, among others.

These people were considered to be “under a special duty to protect” Bright from the dogs, whose behavior “proximately caused the plaintiff to be mauled,” the suit, filed in the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, alleges.

The lawsuit accuses the city of negligence and intential tort.

Other charges filed in the case include negligence and strict liability, but were directly solely toward Mitchell and/or his relatives, landlord, and 10 other unidentified individuals not affiliated with the City.

In all, Bright is seeking an amount in excess of $25,000 together with interest, costs, attorney fees, and any other relief that the court recommends.

Doucher said Bright hopes to recover the expenses he has — and expects to accumulate — as a result of the attacks. So far, his medical bills alone have reached $250,000, Doucher said.

This week, city council unanimously agreed to set aside $25,000 from the city’s general fund in anticipation of the lawsuit and impending court fees.

“That’s not to say that we will actually have to pay $25,000, but the bills could come up to that point,” said city attorney Darren Shulman.

The deductible is covered by the city’s law enforcement insurance policy.

The city has received no court fees at this time, Shulman said.

In addition to having the city help financially compensate Bright for his injuries, Doucher said she would like to see the City of Delaware and other municipalities pay more attention to animal control topics.

“These situations are overlooked in a handful of occasions, but I’ve never seen one as egregious as this situation,” she said.

Bright was attacked during one of his routine walks in October of 2010. He nearly lost his leg, and now walks with the assistance of a cane.

In March 2011, Mitchell pleaded guilty to one count of failure to confine a vicious dog, and four counts of allowing his dogs to run loose and seriously injure a person — all misdemeanors. The following month, he was ordered to serve 180 days in jail and pay $380,000 in restitution for Bright’s medical bills.

Delaware County has since euthanized the five dogs involved in the attack.