DECATUR, Ga. -- A DeKalb County jury awarded a girl who suffered permanent injuries in a pit bull attack $72 Million. A judge ruled that, by law, he had to reduce the award to $36,941,278.50.
Judge Mathew Robins explained that the jury awarded Erin $36,691,278.50 in compensatory damages and another $36 million in punitive damages. But Georgia law limits punitive damages to $250,000.00, so he had to reduce the punitive damages to $250,000.00.
COURT DOCUMENTS | Read the judge's final order
The civil verdict comes after a criminal verdict in 2012. The dog owner, Twyann Vaughn, was sentenced to 16-months in jail for violating Georgia's Vicious Dog Act. She was also sentenced to 36 months of probation and 240 hours of community service.
Erin Ingram testified she thought she was going to die when two pit bulls ran to her from Vaughn's house four doors down. Erin had been shooting baskets in front of her house. The dogs knocked her to the ground and bit her repeatedly. Her left arm had to be amputated, and she lost much of the use of her right arm. She was eight years old at the time of the attack, on March 9, 2010.
"My family has been having hard times since the accident," Erin said in court. "I have nightmares about everything over and over, and I cannot sleep."
The jury heard a tape of the 911 call. In it, you can hear Erin screaming, "Please help me! Please help me!"
"People stare at me," Erin wrote in a victim impact letter read to the judge before sentencing. "Kids make fun of me."
Erin's attorneys, Alan Cleveland and Kevin Adamson, said Tuesday that, from the beginning, they never expected that Vaughn would be able to pay a multi-million dollar verdict.
They said the lawsuit was never about money.
In fact, Adamson said, the foreman of the jury is a pit bull owner, and another juror works with a group that rescues pit bulls, and they joined the other ten jurors in returning the verdict in under an hour. They concluded, Adamson said, that the pit bulls were not the problem, the owner's training of them was the problem.
"We believe that those dogs were trained to attack," Adamson said. "The jury came out and told us when we were done that they wanted to send a message, and they hoped they sent a loud message," Adamson said. "$72.6 Million is a loud message.... The message is, when you have dangerous dogs... you're going to be responsible for their actions.... Whether or not there's ever any recovery [of any of the money awarded to Erin], twelve people in DeKalb County made an assessment of these injuries, and the trauma that this little girl and her family went through. And they put a dollar figure to that trauma."
Cleveland and Adamson said Vaughn, who is now out of prison, once worked as a custodian at a hotel. They're not sure what work she is doing, now, to support herself.
"As long as we can find her," Adamson said, "as long as she collects a paycheck, we will garnish her wages until it's all paid, or she quits working."
Vaughn did not attend the civil trial.
"There was no defense," Cleveland said, "the defendant didn't appear. She had been indignant and didn't think she'd done anything wrong, because [she believed] it wasn't her fault because she wasn't the one that did the attacking."
Erin and her parents and older sister now live in Gwinnett County. Erin is 13 years old, and in the 8th grade at a public school.