“Family could lose house over $500,000 barking dog lawsuit.” That’s certainly an attention grabbing headline. A $500,000 judgment over a barking dog? What jury went off the rails with this one? Actually, no jury at all. A Seattle man obtained a $500,000 default judgment against his neighbor after she failed to answer the complaint that he filed against her in state court.
The lawsuit itself really is about about a barking dog. In his 36 page complaint, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant’s dog was responsible for “raucously, wildly bellowing, howling and explosively barking.” He claims that the dog barked so loudly that it could be measured at 128 decibels . . . through double-paned windows! How loud is 128 decibels? About as loud as a jet engine. Plaintiff claims that all of this barking caused him “profound emotional distress.”
A frivolous lawsuit has no friend like a lazy defendant. But $500,000 for emotional distress from dog barking? We’re no experts in Washington civil procedure, but like most states, its rules do call for a judicial inquiry to verify the damages in cases like this one. The rules provide:
When Amount Uncertain. If, in order to enable the court to enter judgment or to carry it into effect, it is necessary to take an account or to determine the amount of damages or to establish the truth of any averment by evidence or to make an investigation of any other matter, the court may conduct such hearings as are deemed necessary or, when required by statute, shall have such matters resolved by a jury. Findings of fact and conclusions of law are required under this subsection.
Wash. Super. Ct. Civ. R. 55.
So it would appear that some judge looked at this case and determined that $500,000 was a plausible amount of damages. That’s probably the real story here. The defendant now faces an uphill battle in attempted to get the judgment vacated.