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Laird v. Benton

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

March 9, 2017

DONALD LAIRD, Appellant
v.
MONICA BENTON, Appellee

         On Appeal from Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 4 Harris County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 1007020

          Panel consists of Justices Jennings, Higley, and Massengale.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Laura Carter Higley Justice.

         Monica Benton sued Donald Laird for negligence to recover veterinary charges she incurred after Laird's dog, which was off leash in a public park, attacked Benton's dog and tore off part of her dog's ear. The jury found Laird liable for negligence and awarded Benton $717.13, the amount she incurred in veterinary charges to repair her dog's ear. In two issues, Laird challenges the trial court's judgment. He contends that the damages award was based on an incorrect measure of damages and that Benton did not offer sufficient damages evidence.

         Laird's appeal fails to challenge the legal standard in the jury instructions, which authorized the jury to award damages for the "cost of repairs" to the dog without reference to the diminished value of the dog. Laird also failed to preserve any objection to the jury instructions in the trial court. Accordingly, we affirm.

         Background

         In 2011, Monica Benton and her family owned a dog, a pure-bred Weimaraner, named Bridger. Bridger was the family's pet and also a trained hunting dog.

         Because she worked full-time, Monica hired a dog-walking company to exercise Bridger. On January 6, 2011, an employee of the company, Nicholas Viator, took Bridger to Memorial Park for a walk. Viator would later testify that he had Bridger on a leash the entire time they were at the park.

         As they were ending their walk in the park, Viator and Bridger encountered Donald Laird and his two dogs: a 70-pound Boxer and a 106-pound American Bulldog named Minnie. Laird's Boxer was on a leash but Minnie was off leash. Viator asked Laird to put Minnie on a leash, but Laird did not respond. Viator turned to avoid crossing paths with Laird, but Minnie ran toward Bridger and attacked him. During the attack, Minnie bit Bridger on the head and tore off part of Bridger's ear.

         Laird would later testify to a different version of what had occurred at the park. Laird admitted that he did not have Minnie on a leash, and he acknowledged that Minnie had run toward Bridger. However, Laird claimed that Minnie was a friendly dog and had run toward Bridger only because she wanted to play with him. Laird claimed that Bridger had then attacked Minnie, biting her on her throat. Laird claimed that Minnie never bit Bridger.

         Bridger was taken from the park to his veterinarian. The veterinarian was able to suture the laceration of Bridger's ear but could not reattach the part of the ear that had been torn off. The veterinarian charged $717.13 to treat Bridger's injured ear, and the Bentons paid the bill. Monica Benton sued Laird for negligence, seeking to recover the cost of the veterinary charges.

         The case was tried to a jury in May 2016.[1] Benton was represented by counsel in the trial court proceedings, and Laird acted pro se. As mentioned, Viator and Laird testified at trial regarding what had occurred at the park. Viator stated that Minnie had attacked Bridger and tore his ear, and Laird claimed that Bridger had bit Minnie when she ran up to him to play.

         Benton also testified at trial. She stated that her family had adopted Bridger from a shelter, paying a $75 adoption fee. When they had adopted Bridger, Benton had wanted a pet for her two children, and her husband had wanted a hunting dog. They had agreed that Bridger would serve both purposes.

         Benton testified that they had Bridger trained to be a hunting dog, paying $2, 500 for his training. She testified that, after being trained, Bridger did "amazingly well" as hunting dog and that Bridger had competed in ...


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