Lawsuit abuse kills puppies

Blogger Rogier van Bakel is furious (via Balko (h/t Slim)) at his local SPCA because they would rather put a dog to sleep than place it with his family with small children. See, they’re worried about getting sued if the dog bites one of the children. van Bakel can’t believe it: he’s even willing to sign a waiver!

His anger is misdirected. The SPCA didn’t kill his dog; trial lawyers did. Courts’ failure to recognize the right of parties to contract out of excessive liability means that the SPCA has to protect itself against attorneys, and can only do so if they avoid situations where they might be sued. With 20/20 hindsight, the would-be John Edwards will say to a jury: “The SPCA has placed other dogs that bit small children and has been sued for it, yet they continue to place dogs with small children!”, and demand punitive damages. Between judges who won’t recognize the right of contract when it interferes with a lawyer’s paycheck, and legislative efforts to prevent parties from agreeing to contract out of the high costs of the liability system, von Bakel cannot distinguish himself from the families who would blame the SPCA if a dog-attack occurs. The offer of a waiver does not help: the SPCA can’t afford to take the risk that an adoptive family will renege on its agreement not to sue if the dog attacks a child.

Now, perhaps we as a society do not want shelters to place animals in homes with small children. Or perhaps we do. But shouldn’t that be a decision that rests with a legislature, rather than random chance and a jury? But when a jury has the power to exact uncapped damages, an SPCA has to anticipate the regulation through litigation.

van Bakel and Balko direct readers to other organizations that have not yet been saddled with a lawsuit demanding such practices, but they will surely follow in the SPCA’s footsteps when the lawyers get a hold of them. The long-term solution is to insist on elected officials who will appoint judges who respect freedom of contract, and who will pass tort reform measures that put common-sense limits on the power of courts to interfere with every-day activity. Even now in Congress is debating S. 1782, which would put further limits on the power of consumers to opt out of expensive litigation, and receive the benefits of lower costs and increased choice; while President Bush will veto such legislation, an Obama administration with a Democratic Congress would surely vote it into law.

For more on the Congressional and trial-lawyer campaign to reduce consumer choice, see the Overlawyered arbitration section.

Apologies to Mr. van Bakel for the misspelling of his name in the original version of the post.


  • it really does depend on the dog, some dogs just will not tolerate small children ( and if they do renege on the agreement what about the dog?) does it get taken back to the shelter putting stress on all involved (including the dog) or does the dog get put down cause it bit someone (at the very least i believe the animal must be placed in a 14 day quarantine)

  • Some people are crazy when it comes to dogs. My neighbor at the time had an adult Doberman Pinsher Dog as a pet and pre-school children. The dog charged through the screen door and pinned my step grandson to the ground. The boy was 5 or 6 at the time. The neighbors then got a companion for the Doberman. It was a Rothweiler. The two dogs would go into a frenzy every time I parked my car. They scared me. Either dog would likely cause serious harm had it snapped at a child, or an adult for that matter.

    Dog bites are a serious problem, but a well behaved dog can be a man’s (or child’s) best friend.

  • The answer is clearly to lie on the screening form about having children. Even if the courts won’t recognize a waiver, misrepresentation should accomplish the same thing in the event of a dog bite incident.

  • The answer is clearly to lie on the screening form about having children. Even if the courts won’t recognize a waiver, misrepresentation should accomplish the same thing in the event of a dog bite incident.

    Sadly, this is more likely than a waiver to actually work. Even more sadly, it still is not foolproof (“Why didn’t you invstigate to see if they had children or not?”).

  • The answer is clearly to lie on the screening form about having children. Even if the courts won’t recognize a waiver, misrepresentation should accomplish the same thing in the event of a dog bite incident.

    but this ignores the underlying condition
    will the dog tolerate children? if not all lying does is get the child bit!!!

    and again then what the dog gets put down,

    animal shelters are not here to give dogs away to the first person to get there!
    they are trying to find the right dog for the right family (and vice versa)

    have any of you handled a scared or aggresive dog?

  • just to make this absolutely clear i do not agree with how the spca handled this (instead of killing the animal what they should have done was taken it to dog training classes see how it behaved . . . and then made the descision to adopt or not) you sure this was the spca and not animal control?? (most private shelter are low -kill, i.e. if its fataly ill or violates a bite qaurantine)

  • My first job was with the local branch of the Humane Society. We had a farmer who wanted to adopt 15 cats. He wanted barn cats for his farm. The woman in charge refused to let him adopt the cats. They had a bunch of strange rules concerning cats. Two days later I put down 20 cats because of overcrowding. I guess it is better to kill them, than to allow them to be adopted in less than optimal conditions. Since working there I have never volunteered or donated money to any organization of this type. I have a thing against hypocracy.

  • It is apparent that neither the SPCA nor members of the public really understand what is happening in regard to dogs being adopted out or not, to families w/kids? As an attorney and canine rescuer, I have seen countless adults who know nothing about dogs–adopt a dog for their family, fail to instruct the kids on safe dog-child interaction, and fail to properly train the dog. The size of dog is not determining factor–but it has been shown via credible evidence that more than 50% of the fatal attacks by canines HAVE been caused by either rescued, rehomed, or shelter dogs; even though these dogs only comprise about 15-19% of total dogs owned (total dogs owned estimated at 65-70million in US) and where the TOTAL number of fatalities by canines might only be 35 in the US. As we can see, the 15-19% being involved in the 50%+ of fatalities is indeed suspect. For more info, see
    Any member of the public with children would do best not to adopt a shelter dog unless they are fully competent with canines, instruct their kids re safety with canines, and supervise their kids w/the dog at all times. If they cannot do this (and most cannot) they should not obtain a rescued or shelter animal. Blaming the SPCA and attorneys is misplaced. It is the dog owners who either don’t recognize behavior signs of dogs, don’t supervise the dog/kid, and don’t train the dog properly. And it is rather unlikely that the SPCA would lose a case unless the new owner could prove the SPCA knew the dog was a biter, or had reason to know.