• Expert Needed to Establish Negligence in Improper Police Conduct Claimed by Plaintiff
  • August 29, 2013 | Author: Betsy G. Ramos
  • Law Firm: Capehart & Scatchard, P.A. - Mount Laurel Office
  • The Appellate Division recently decided that to pursue a personal injury claim against a township and its police officers, the plaintiff needed to retain an expert to establish negligent police conduct. In the recent unpublished decision of Gordon v. Township of Toms River, dkt. No. A-5139-11T1, the plaintiff was bitten by a police K-9 dog when the dog was in the process of apprehending him.

    After having a few drinks one evening and calling her multiple times, the plaintiff entered his ex-girlfriend's house through a window when she was not home and went to sleep on her couch. Upon her arrival, she noticed his parked vehicle at her home and she called the Toms River police.

    Toms River police officers arrived with their K-9 officer and went inside the home. The "standard K-9 announcement" was made and the K-9 was released to locate the plaintiff. The K-9 initially bit the plaintiff on the buttocks but then when he resisted, he bit him on his left calf and, subsequently, on his right shoulder, buttocks, and twice on his left leg. Plaintiff was later charged with burglary, harassment, stalking, and trespassing and, ultimately, pled guilty to trespassing.

    The defendants filed summary judgment and the trial court considered whether the plaintiff had adequately proven that defendants acted negligently. The trial court judge found that an expert was needed to establish the applicable standard of care in handling a K-9 and granted summary judgment. The plaintiff appealed.

    The Appellate Division upheld the trial court's decision, finding that an expert was required. The average citizen would have no experience with police techniques and methods. They would not know how police should ordinarily conduct themselves. Thus, the use of expert testimony for alleged claim of faulty police conduct would be required.

    Here an expert would be needed to provide critical insights to the jury as to whether the K-9 was used appropriately in this context. Without an expert testifying as to police canine training and procedure, the jury could not have fairly assessed the reasonableness of the defendants' conduct.

    This case points out the typical need for expert testimony in claims against municipalities and their police officers when the claim alleges improper police conduct. Without such an expert, the plaintiff's claim may be subject to dismissal.