A lawsuit was filed yesterday in Rhode Island Superior Court in Newport on behalf of ten people, eight of whom are children, who faced possible exposure to rabies after having contact with a calf at Tiverton Four Corners last July.
The case generated considerable attention at the time. The calf, named Oreo, had bitten a Massachusetts man on July 15. The calf died on July 21, but the town did not notify state officials until July 24, too late to make a definitive determination about the cause of death.
The Department of Public Health in Massachusetts and the Department of Health in Rhode Island instructed anyone who had contact with the animal between July 5, 2013 and July 21, 2013 to contact them regarding their possible exposure to rabies. Each of the plaintiffs did so and were advised by state officials to receive rabies shots.
The suit alleges that Marilyn Bettencourt, owner of Gray’s Ice Cream, Inc., was negligent with respect to the supervision, care and maintenance of a “de facto” petting zoo adjacent to the popular establishment.
Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that Bettencourt failed to have the calves inoculated with the rabies vaccine; allowed the public to interact with the calf named Oreo; and allowed the public to interact with this animal despite the fact that it appeared ill.
The suit further alleges that as a result of this “failure to ensure that the public was not exposed to a diseased calf,” the plaintiffs were caused to suffer severe, permanent and grievous injuries, severe pain and emotional distress, while expending substantial sums of money in the form of medical and hospital care.
The complaint also brings suit against the Town of Tiverton for negligence – for the alleged failure of the Tiverton Animal Control to notify the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management in a timely fashion so the animal could be tested for rabies. The suit maintains that as a direct result of the Tiverton Animal Control’s delay, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management could not perform the test for rabies on the calf because the animal was too decomposed.
As a result of the town’s failure to ensure that the public was not exposed to a diseased calf, the plaintiffs maintain that they suffered the injuries alleged. Pursuant to state law, claims had already been filed with the Town of Tiverton seeking $100,000 in damages for each plaintiff. A jury trial is being sought.
According to the plaintiffs’ attorney, Brian Cunha, “This unfortunate series of events has disrupted the lives of so many with frightening consequences. The ongoing medical care that each was required to receive was extremely burdensome, expensive and especially terrifying for children. The rabies virus attacks the central nervous system and can cause death. Lingering and serious side effects are possible.”
“The medications are especially potent – with multiple doses being given over various times. But for the actions of the two defendants, this situation need never have arisen, Cunha added.”
Sharon Sybel is the lead attorney on the case. A senior staff attorney with the law firm, she investigated the matter; filed the original claims with the town; and prepared the complaint.