"I have complete compassion for them," said Jeffery Ely about the family he sued after killing their dog. Ely had been driving at night on January 4 when Nikki Munthe's dog, Fester, a miniature pinscher, ran out into the road and maliciously hurled his 13-pound body into the front of Ely's Honda Civic.
Ely later sued the Munthe family for about $1,100, which he said was the cost of fixing his bumper and radiator and the time he had to take off from work.
"I know how it feels," he said, not meaning how it feels to be struck and killed by a Honda Civic but rather how it feels to lose a beloved pet. "I love dogs. But once you get them, they are your responsibility." He blamed the family for letting the dog off-leash. (The family filed a countersuit.)
In January 2008, you may recall, Tomas Delgado dismissed a somewhat similar lawsuit that he filed against the family of a boy he had killed. Delgado argued that the boy and his bike had negligently damaged the front of his Audi when he hit them, traveling somewhere around 90 mph on a rural highway at night. Delgado agreed to drop that lawsuit after his attorney arrived at the courthouse for a hearing to find hundreds of local residents had also taken an interest in the matter, and that they were not Delgado supporters.
In the more civilized (but much less festive) environment of St. Louis County, Minnesota, the lawsuits were resolved by a judge rather than by an angry mob. After emotional testimony by both sides on May 10, Judge Gerald Maher dismissed both lawsuits, saying there was no proof anyone had been negligent. (It turned out the leash law did not apply partly because the family lived outside city limits.) "You don't have a legal cause of action," Judge Maher said, though it's unclear if he said it to one or both sides. "You never should have been here."
They had planned to be on TV instead, apparently -- the parties had agreed to appear on "Judge Joe Brown" to settle the matter, but that seems to have fallen through. Ely told the Duluth News Tribune that nationwide coverage of the matter had "ruined his reputation," although his willingness to appear (and probably lose) on national TV drops that down a bit on the sympathy scale.
According to local sources, Ely has since fixed his radiator himself, for about $120.