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K-9 bite costs Kern County $2 million after landmark settlement

Attorneys say this Oildale parking lot was the scene of a wrongful K9 attack in 2013. (KBAK/ KBFX photo/ Adam Herbets)

A Bakersfield law firm on Thursday announced what it says is a record settlement in a dog bite case.

A K-9 used by the Kern County Sheriff's Office escaped from a patrol car in 2013 and bit 21-year-old Erin Casey in an Oildale parking lot, according to law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles.

"They're not trained to nip at you, right?" said Matt Clark, the plaintiff's attorney. "I mean, they are trained to provide a full force bit any time they bite somebody."

Clark released pictures of Casey's leg, before and after getting stitches, showing "significant bite wounds."

Clark said the deputy just happened to be in the area when he saw Casey getting into an argument in the parking lot. That's when the deputy stopped to see if she was okay, he said.

"The dog uses its nose to open the slider, gets into the front seats, and then jumps out of an open window," said Clark. "There was a defect in the door. Normally the dog could not open the door on its own."

He said the deputy couldn't get his German shepherd under control, because it refused to obey commands.

"(The deputy) actually had to call for backup to get the dog off of her," said Clark. "After handling this case, I certainly wouldn't want to run up and try to pet one of these dogs."

The settlement of $2 million with Kern County is the largest award for a dog bite case against a public entity in California, the law firm said, citing information from a verdict and settlement database. Clark said the reason the dollar value is so high has to do with his client's injuries, which include nerve damage and require spinal cord treatment.

"She's certainly not 100 percent. I don't know if she'd ever be 100 percent," said Clark. "No amount of money takes away the fact that she's in pain every day."

Mark Nations is an attorney who regularly represents Kern County. He didn't settle this case, but he did have knowledge of it.

Nations said that Casey is "going to need medical treatment for many, many years." He also confirmed that the $2 million will come from taxpayer dollars.

"As a tax payer, it would concern me that we allow this to happen," said Clark, who added that the dog and the deputy are still at work, as far as he knows. "I think the fact that they paid $2 million would suggest that they believe they had some problems."

Eyewitness News has reached out to the Kern County Sheriff's Office. A spokesman told us that Sheriff Donny Youngblood had no comment and referred us to their attorneys.

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