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Like bullies and illnesses, lawsuits can be ignored, but they won’t go away. Denise Norton learned this valuable lesson the hard way this week when she found out that a lawsuit she has tried to ignore could wind up costing Norton her North Seattle home.
Her neighbor Woodrow Thompson filed a lawsuit alleging that the sound of barking from Norton’s dog, Cawper, was intentionally causing him “profound emotional distress.” In his detailed, 36-page complaint, Thompson claimed that the canine’s “raucously, wildly bellowing, howling and explosively barking” was capable of reaching 128 decibels. For context, the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration — the Labor Department agency tasked with enforcing safe working conditions — says a person should not be exposed to a noise of 115 decibels for more than 15 minutes a day. That said, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Noise Meter, Thompson’s claim would mean that Cawper’s bark is louder than an ambulance siren and just slightly softer than a jet engine at takeoff.
“In my head, everything was so bogus that he’d been doing, I don’t know why, I just didn’t think it was real or something,” Norton told the local ABC News affiliate, KOMO-TV. That’s why, even when she was served with papers, Norton simply didn’t respond.
Unfortunately for Norton, however, the suit was very real, and because she didn’t challenge her neighbor’s claims, Thompson — who has not spoken to the press — won $500,000 by default.
“The sheriff comes, puts the papers on the garage and the wall and everything and saying they were going to put the house up for sale,” Norton said. Now she and her family are fighting to reverse the decision — spending a good chunk of their savings on lawyers — before they lose their home.
Mike Fandel, a civil attorney unrelated to the case, explained to KOMO-TV that winning a frivolous lawsuit is easy when the other side doesn’t respond. Getting the case dismissed now that a judgment has been made, on the other hand, will be a challenge.
“If you think it ought to be dismissed, it will only be dismissed if you ask the court to do it,” Fandel said. Norton acknowledges her mistake and is determined to fix it.
“How can you give somebody a half-a-million-dollar lien over a dog barking?” Norton asked, defending Cawper. “He’s just a loving, nice dog.”