DennisBeaverAugust 2, 2014   •  By Dennis Beaver

You really have to give credit to the staff at Avenal State Prison, the Department of Corrections and California’s Government Claims Board. In terms of ducking from responsibility and having any sense of just doing the right thing, these guys get our JOY award.

That stands for Jerks of the Year, and we will explain in a moment why, but first, this question:

Let’s say that you are out walking your dog when my dog gets out, then, unprovoked, bites you and your pooch. Who is responsible for required medical/vet bills? If you ask me to pay, isn’t the right thing to simply pay the bill or immediately turn the matter over to my Homeowner’s Insurance and let them handle it?

The answer to that question proved simply mind-boggling impossible for the top brass at the California’s Claims Board, the Department of Corrections and Avenal Prison — and if anyone should know right from wrong, the prison should!

Were it not for Hanford Sentinel reporter Joe Johnson’s desire to help 84-year-old subscriber John Thompson, in our legal opinion, this Hanford resident would have been ripped off, and he did nothing more sinister than walk his dog at about 10 in the morning on Jan. 2, 2013, when:

“With my little dog, Blondie, we had hardly gone ½ a block on West Claridge Way when an Avenal Prison K-9 in the care of a corrections officer, quickly came up to us and began aggressively sniffing my dog and lifting her off the ground. Trying to protect my dog, I bent over to pick her up and at that instant, the K-9 began to bite her, and then me.

“Fortunately, a neighbor–also a prison employee – saw what was happening, ran across the street, grabbed the K-9 and pulled it off of us. He then took it to its handler’s house, who we would later discover was out of the country on vacation.”

We learned that the dog should never have remained at the home when its handler was absent.

“Veterinary and medical bills came to $200, and that’s all that I ever wanted,” Thompson explained.

Animal control was contacted, and a report was generated leaving no doubt that the prison owned the dog and that it had in fact been on the loose earlier that morning.

Thompson’s attorney sent a well-written demand letter to the warden, but instead of accepting responsibility and paying the bills, there was no response. This situation now required filing a government claim —within 6 months of the incident–but for some odd reason, his attorney waited until May 22 — and then sent in a claim which was certain to be rejected even though it was obvious the prison was at fault. Here’s why:

California’s Government Claim’s Board makes it clear that damages for “pain and suffering” are not allowed. Yet, the attorney asked “$5,000″ for pain and suffering, which triggered an automatic rejection.

As You and the Law would discover, if his attorney had simply asked to be reimbursed for out of pocket medical/vet bills — what his client wanted — the board would have paid!

Crime reporter Joe Johnson phoned our office. “Beav, I have a great story for you!”

Soon thereafter, we would realize just how morally bankrupt are the folks at these huge state agencies, and here’s why we say this:

Nothing prevented the prison from reimbursing those medical expenses at once. Receiving a flawed Government Claim did not prevent a friendly phone call to Thompson’s attorney, pointing out the error, and suggesting that he submit an amended claim.

They could have done it, realized his claim otherwise had merit, but knew very well that over $200 or so dollars, few would ever file a lawsuit, as it would cost far more with filing and service of process fees.

After our coaxing, cajoling and ridiculing, finally, the State of California has paid our 84-year-old reader, “472 days after the bite,” Thompson told us with a big smile.

There’s something else which makes these kinds of stories so compelling, and it is John himself, who we got to know.

He enlisted in the Army Air Force 1947, served in the Korean War as a flight engineer in combat missions surviving a spectacular runway crash. Leaving the service, he would spend the next 37 years – 17 of which were overseas – working for McDonnell-Douglas as an adviser to air forces around world, including Israel, Turkey, Taiwan, and Greece.

He is an American hero, deserved better and the power of the press got it for him.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.