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Toddler Victim of Dog Attack Gets His Finger Back


I read this fascinating account of how a plastic surgeon in Pasadena re-attached the index finger of a 2-year-old boy after it was bitten off by a neighbor’s dog. According to this story in the Pasadena Star News, the toddler had stuck his hand through a fence and a neighbor’s pit bull bit off the tip of his left index finger.

Dr. Jeanette Martello, the on-call plastic surgeon at Huntington Hospital, took one look at the boy and was worried because there was no finger tip available to put back and no extra skin hanging off the finger to cover the bone. That would mean severely impairing the boy’s fine motor skills. He would even have problems writing or buttoning up his shirt.

The police had apparently scoured the boy’s and the neighbor’s yards for the finger tip, but couldn’t find it. And then, Dr. Martello had an idea – she thought it might be worth a shot to get the dog to throw up. So she got the required clearances from humane society officials and a veterinarian and administered a small amount of hydrogen peroxide to the pit bull. Sure enough, the dog threw up and out came the fingertip along with other undigested food.

The finger tip was still in good shape. After microscopically removing bits of food from the cut finger tip and drenching it with antibiotics, it took a two hour surgery to re-attach it. The doctor says it was “like a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces fitted perfectly.”

This is such a heartwarming story not just because of this surgeon’s out-of-the-box thinking and her creativity, but because of her courage to experiment and her extreme concern for the little boy. This plastic surgeon is a true hero.

More than 5 million people in the United States seek treatment for dog bite injuries each year. Over the years, our firm has represented numerous dog bite victims, especially young children, who often need plastic surgery to repair wounds on their face or body. The medical expenses are usually quite high for plastic surgery as they must have been for the family of this 2-year-old.

The interesting question here is whether the child’s family will be able to recover damages from the dog owner for medical expenses and other losses. California has a “strict liability statute” in dog bite cases. California’s Civil Code Section 3342 states: “The owner of any dog is liable for the damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness.”

Then again, this statute may not apply in this case because the other side may argue that the boy had no business sticking his hand through the fence into the neighbor’s yard. In order for the “strict liability statute” to take hold, the victim must incur injury in a place where they have a right to be. That would be the real legal issue here – does a child in one yard “have the right” to enter the neighbor’s yard by placing his hand through a fence. That MAY BE the place where “attractive nuisance” may play a part.

The boy’s family would be well advised to consult with a reputed Southern California personal injury lawyer, who is experienced in dealing with dog bite cases. This case would definitely require a lawyer as skilled and as creative as the plastic surgeon who fixed the boy’s finger. The attorney will have to push the envelope on behalf of the boy to demonstrate that the child’s hand had the right to enter the yard where the dog bit it.

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