Delray Beach dog bite victim wins $7.7 million verdict; now has to collect

WEST PALM BEACH — Jerry Kern can still vividly recall the terror of being surrounded by three snarling dogs, ripping his pant legs with their teeth and slicing his skin.

While the agonizing puncture wounds eventually healed, far more serious wounds remain. The twisting and turning Kern did while trying to fend off the attack left the retired Delray Beach attorney in constant pain that neither a back operation, drugs nor physical therapy have cured.

“Sleeping, dressing, showering,” Kern said, ticking off the routine daily tasks that have become fraught with pain since December 2011, when he was attacked by his neighbor’s large mixed-breed dogs outside his home in a rural stretch of Delray Beach off Davis Road.

For those lingering injuries, a jury last week agreed Kern’s neighbors should pay him $7.7 million. Now the hunt is on for the money.

“On paper it looks like a great verdict,” Kern said on Thursday. “But then there’s the collection process.”

His neighbors, Laurie and Bruce Cossar didn’t defend themselves during the daylong trial. After the lawsuit was filed in 2012, they sold their house on Lone Pine Road. It appears they have moved back to the Turks and Caicos where at least one of Bruce Cossar’s businesses is based.

While Laurie Cossar wrote an apology after the attack, later her husband sent a different sort of letter, Kern said. Bruce Cossar claimed Kern provoked the attack. They didn’t respond to a phone call or email for this story.

Attorney Paul Adams, who represented Kern during the one-sided trial last month, said he is confident he eventually will recover some money.

The Canadian-born couple paid $540,000 cash for their house in 2007, Adams said. Bruce Cossar drove a hybrid Fisker automobile that once retailed for as much as $100,000.

“I like my odds in this case,” Adams said of his ability to collect a judgment from the apparently well-heeled couple.

Still, Kern said, he isn’t planning to spend the money anytime soon. But, he said, he is satisfied that the jury understood the viciousness of the attack and the impact it has had on the life he shares with his wife of 55 years.

He said he didn’t realize how much he had hurt himself until days after the attack when he began experiencing numbness and tingling in his legs. An MRI revealed he had herniated a disk in his back that was putting pressure on a nerve. Without immediate surgery to relieve the pressure on the nerve, he could begin losing the use of his foot, he said his doctor advised.

So, he underwent surgery, where screws and rods were implanted in his back and three of his vertebra were fused.

But while he has regained the use of his legs, he can’t work in the yard like he used to, drive long distances to see his adult children and, he admits, he can be difficult to live with. “My wife is very gracious for putting up with my ill humor,” he said.

Looking back, he said he can’t believe how dramatically his life changed while he was doing a mundane task. One minute, he was throwing a piece of plywood in a trash pile in front of his house. The next minute, the gate of his neighbor’s driveway opened and the dogs charged at him.

“My activities,” he said, “are very limited.”