A “perfect storm, of sorts” allowed a McKeesport police officer who was attacked by a pit bull to file a civil lawsuit against the dog’s owners and their landlord, his lawyer said on Tuesday.
“It’s a very rare case, and it’s somewhat obscure, but case law supports this action,” White Oak attorney Joseph Gaydos Jr. said.
Officer Frank Durante filed the lawsuit on Monday in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court against the property owner, Andrew Hrinda, and his tenants, Danielle and Harry Holloway. Durante claims they were negligent for the attack that led to Durante’s serious injuries.
Neither Hrinda, who owns several properties in the Mc-Keesport area, nor the Holloways could be reached for comment. It was unclear whether they have lawyers.
According to the lawsuit and police accounts of the incident, Durante, who was a part-time officer at the time, and his partner responded to a domestic disturbance at the Holloways’ home along Freemont Street in McKeesport on July 13, 2013.
When Durante and his partner approached the front door, the Holloways’ 100- to 120-pound pit bull named Goochie attacked, biting Durante twice on the left hand and once on the right hand, leaving large lacerations on his forearm, permanent scarring and tendon damage.
Durante’s partner accidentally shot Durante in the right heel in an attempt to stop the dog.
The pit bull died from a gunshot. Durante spent several days in UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland.
Philadelphia lawyer Martin Kleinman, who specializes in tort law, said that in many states, Durante’s claims would immediately be dismissed based on a law called the “firefighter’s rule,” which bars injured public safety officials from filing such lawsuits. But in Pennsylvania, which never adopted such a law, courts have taken a “more nuanced approach,” Kleinman said.
“The emergency responder can sue for damages as long as the injury was caused by negligent or intentional conduct that was separate from the conduct that contributed to the emergency,” he said. “In other words, if this cop was responding to a barking dog, he wouldn’t be able to sue.”
The lawsuit claims the Holloways had a history of not being able to control their dog. Danielle Holloway was cited six times in the two weeks leading up to the attack for failing to keep the dog confined and for not having a dog license. Hrinda knew the pit bull was at the residence and was aware of its aggressive nature, the lawsuit says.
Gaydos said the city’s insurance has covered Durante’s health care but doesn’t think it should have to pay those costs. If Durante wins an award, the company could file for a piece of it, he said.
McKeesport officials could not be reached or declined comment.