While the Todd Ritter case languishes somewhere in Dana Nessel’s care, his mother’s civil lawsuit is heading towards trial. The Leelanau County case demands a six-figure sum for getting bit by a dog.
The facts depend on who you ask. Ritter’s mother, Margaret (can we call you Maggie?) claims the shelter owner gave her the dog knowing that it had a bite history. She claims that she was sleeping when the dog attacked her for no reason at all.
The shelter owner, Linda Gottwald of the Great Lakes Humane Society, says that mama Ritter signed a waiver when she took the dog. She said that Ritter declined to give the dog back even after she called Gottwald to complain that it was nippy. Gotwald says a sleep attack doesn’t make sense, and that a natural reaction to being rolled on during sleep is much more plausible.
There’s also a debate about the severity of Margaret Ritter’s injuries. She claimed in the Northern Express article that she was going to have facial reconstructive surgery. Looking at the photos in the article, though, I don’t see any stitches, and only one small part of it looks like a deep cut. (Wait, is that a face earring? How old are you? Is the fact that there’s already a face earring mean that additional scarring doesn’t matter as much? That’s not a crazy thought, actually.) Did the facial reconstruction surgery actually happen? As of the writing of the article in the Express, she said it was only going to happen.
Either way, this isn’t a case worth $100,000+. Sorry, but it just isn’t. An emergency medical bill to clean out the wound, maybe the surgery she says she needed, but we don’t know if it actually even happened. Add a little P&S, and it’s still a much smaller about than what Maggie Ritter is demanding.
If Ms. Ritter signed a waiver, is it enforceable? Ritter has a factual issue on her hands, in that it’s her word against Gottwald’s whether Gottwald knew or should have known about the dog’s bite history, if in fact that dog had a bite history at all. Ritter has to prove gross negligence in order to invalidate the liability waiver, and if the jury doesn’t know whose version of events to believe, she doesn’t have the evidence to prove her case, and that’s even if you believe that the dog randomly attacked and wasn’t actually fighting back against getting squished. If Ritter was sleeping next to the dog, that’s likely contributory negligence that cuts into her case and damages.
Ritter also has to overcome the fact that a woman who runs an animal shelter is going to appear sympathetic.
So why are we talking about this? Isn’t this a private issue brought by a private person? Not when Todd Ritter, former Grand Traverse County Jail administrator has dodged criminal charges, to date, for some extremely serious misconduct (allegedly), and not when Sheriff Bensley and the local police don’t believe in accountability. Now mama Ritter has her hand out and a Leelanau County animal control official is a star witness. They’re all the same district and circuit courts, with the same judges, and the same culture. Yes, they still have to get through to the jury for the ultimate decision, but judges have tremendous control over what the jury sees and the tone in the courtroom.
What do you know? What do you think? Do you think this case can be fairly tried in the 13th Circuit?