What started as a routine grooming visit turned into a deadly nightmare for one south Sarasota County family.
VENICE — The day started like any other normal day for William and Elma Hall, and their pet English Bulldog Max. But it would end anything but normal.
Back in January, Max had a grooming appointment at Petco, just off the U.S. 41 Bypass in Venice. Within minutes of dropping him off, Elma says she received a call from a Petco employee explaining Max was being transported to an animal hospital in Sarasota. Shortly after, the Halls say they were made aware that Max had died.
Now, the Halls are suing Petco Animal Supplies Stores Inc., alleging violation of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, basic negligence and gross negligence, according to a lawsuit filed in the 12th Judicial Circuit in Sarasota County. While the family is only suing for $50,000, this case struck a chord with Don Cahall, the Bradenton injury lawyer representing the Hall family.
The couple is related to a former client of his and when he first heard about the incident, he says, in a Dec. 16 interview with the Business Observer, that "it sounded completely alarming to me." Cahall says he ultimately concluded it was an egregious situation involving a national retailer with what he calls low safety standards that resulted in the dog's death.
"It may not be a money case for me," he says, "but I was passionate about the fact that the dog had died. It needed to be addressed. This dog was like a son to them."
Cahall hasn't taken a case like this before, but he is aware of other similar cases within the state. The majority are veterinarian malpractice, but there was one case in appellate law that extends further than negligence and gives way to emotional damages. In that case, the dog was left on a heating pad for 24 hours after surgery.
In the Hall case, Max was transported to an animal hospital without the input of the Halls, the lawsuit contends. The couple would have directed Petco to transport the dog to a closer veterinarian if given the chance, they say. Additionally, Petco employees, the lawsuit contends, didn’t give the Halls the option to wait for an autopsy.
San Diego-based Petco was ranked by Forbes as the No. 107 largest private company in the U.S. in 2020, with $3 billion in annual sales. The company is represented in the case by Hamilton Miller & Birthisel, which is headquartered in Miami with an office in Tampa. Attorneys for the firm didn't return calls for comment on the case.
The Halls, in the lawsuit, state Max had no underlying health issues prior to the visit and was a healthy three-and-a-half-year-old dog. They also state they relied on Petco’s assurances that the animal’s health and safety comes first.
Elma Hall questioned the groomer regarding the size of the harness Max was placed into, she says, but was reassured it was the correct size. “We’re trying to prove negligence and that the situation was improperly handled,” says Nina Skowyra, a paralegal/legal assistant at the The Cahall Law Firm.
Currently, the case is in the management stage, and Skowyra hopes a trial could start sometime in the summer. “It’s not about the dollar amount, it’s about the principle,” she says.
As for the family, Skowyra says they’re hanging in there. “It’s been a difficult case for them,” she says. “Mrs. Hall took it very harshly.”
She lost a human child around the same age, but the cause of death was never discovered, Cahall says. Because of that history, "this was really impactful for her," he adds.
While they’re doing better now, as they’ve since added a cocker spaniel to the family, they’re also less trusting. “She’s sitting in on every grooming appointment now because she’s no longer trusting,” Skowyra says.