Law & Justice

Jury Finds Pit Bull Owner Responsible, Landlord Negligent in 2015 Attack on South Plainfield Woman, Dog at Spring Lake Park

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Yogi, on a walk to the park with his owner Katie Stilo, on May 3, 2015, just minutes prior to the attack. Credits: Katie Stilo
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Katie Stilo and her dog, Yogi. Credits: Katie Stilo
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SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ –  A jury in Middlesex County Court earlier this month ruled in favor of the South Plainfield resident attacked by a dog at Spring Lake Park nearly three years ago. According to plaintiff Katie Stilo, both the property owner and the owner of the dog were found to be negligent in the 2015 attack on her and her dog.

On the afternoon of May 3, 2015, Katie Stilo, looking to take advantage of the nice weather and get some exercise, left their home off South Plainfield Avenue and headed to Spring Lake Park. Crossing Maple Avenue, Stilo and her dog Yogi, a 25-pound Shiba Inu, entered the county park near the PAL, but they didn't make it very far before being attacked by a female pit-bull-boxer mix that broke through the fence of an adjacent property.

According to Stilo, now 24, while still on the pedestrian path directly next to the park’s Maple Avenue entrance sign, she heard a woman to her right scream ‘no.’ “I looked up and saw a large dog was charging at us. By the time I could react, the dog was already attacking Yogi,” said Stilo. “In self-defense, because he couldn't do anything, I tried to push the pit-bull to the ground and then it came after me, tackled me to the ground, and bit me in the neck.”

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Yogi, she said, ran off and into traffic onto Maple Avenue. Managing to break free of the aggressive canine, Stilo then went after her dog.

“The pit-bull chased us for about a block to Joan Street and I was in the middle of Maple Avenue bleeding from the neck, my dog nowhere to be found,” said Stilo, adding that with the help of a stranger – whose name she never knew – Yogi was found but he, too, was injured, his back left leg bitten and bleeding.

Stilo was taken by ambulance to JFK Medical Center where she underwent treatment for bite marks and injuries to her hands, legs and throat, close to her carotid artery. In addition to rabies and tetanus shots, she also underwent a cat-scan and received a number of stitches in her neck.

Yogi also needed immediate medical condition and was taken to Plainfield Animal Hospital. “He also received multiple shots and stitches to his back left leg because the muscle was nearly ripped off,” said Stilo.

About a week after the incident, Stilo reattained a lawyer and, over the weeks and months that followed, she went to countless doctors, including a therapist to help deal with anxiety and nightmares. She also ended up having back surgery due to an injury associated with the attack and lost over six months of work.

“It was a very treacherous two and a half years,” she said.

On a local level, she appeared in South Plainfield court at a vicious dog hearing but the judge ruled the dog was not dangerous. “The dog had previously attacked another dog prior to me being attacked and shortly after my incident it broke through and jumped out a window of the home and attacked a man’s dog. The man was pushing his young child in a stroller at the time of this attack,” said Stilo, telling TAPinto South Plainfield that she also wrote letters to the mayor, council, and chief of police. “If the town had properly handled the situation and took it in a serious manner that attack could have been prevented. It seemed the town didn't take this seriously.”

In June 2015, Stilo moved forward with a lawsuit against the landlord and the tenant/dog owner and, on Jan. 9, a jury in New Brunswick ruled in her favor. In the judgment, the court found the owner of the dog 80-percent responsible in the attack and the landlord/homeowner 20-percent negligent (for failing to maintain the property).

According to Stilo, she has no idea whether or not the dog still resides at the premise and that the landlord had testified in the past that he did not know whether or not a dog or any other pets were at his property. On the day the judgment was rendered neither the dog owner nor the property owner showed up in court the day of the verdict; the only legal representative for the defendant, she said, was the attorney representing the landlord’s insurance company.

“The compensation was not at all fair based on the suffering me, Yogi and my family have gone through along with countless bills, lost wages, etc.” said Stilo, adding that she will have to try to collect whatever is available from the tenant and go through the homeowner’s insurance for the rest.

All medical and emotional issues aside, Stilo said all she ever wanted – and is still waiting for – is an apology. “I just wanted them to apologize and be up front and own up to responsibility…and I never got that,” she said.

Stilo continued, “Imagine how you would feel. It was horrible. I was just trying to walk my dog in the park and I almost bled out and died from it.”

TAPinto South Plainfield is South Plainfield’s only free daily paper. Sign up to get all the news as it happens at www.TAPinto.net/enews and follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SouthPlainfieldTAP/ and on Twitter at @SoplainfieldTAP.

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