SOUTH BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET/CNN) - The family of an 8-year-old girl has filed a claim against a California school district after a dog visiting the girl’s classroom reportedly bit and cut open the right side of her face.
Leilani Rivera, 8, received stitches after she was bitten by a dog at school on May 9. The little girl’s lip was split open down to her chin, and a gash on her cheek cut through the muscle. Since the attack, she has only been able to eat and drink out of a syringe, according to her aunt, Andrea Gonzalez.
Attorneys have filed a lawsuit on behalf of Leilani’s family against the Bakersfield City School District and Kern County Superintendent of Schools, claiming both organizations failed to supervise two dogs that visited Leilani’s second grade class at Wayside Elementary School.
A volunteer reader named Ann Ardell brought the dogs, believed to be either Chows or Akitas, and invited students to pet them. But when Leilani tried to hug one of them, she says the dog attacked.
"I tried to lean in for a hug, and the dog just bit me on the face,” Leilani said. "I was crying, and it was really painful."
Leilani’s family fears her scars will last a lifetime. They are calling for a policy where dogs are banned from classrooms.
"I just want to see a change… and to make sure that this doesn't happen to any other child,” Gonzalez said.
Family attorney Matthew Clark says the case serves as a warning to school officials and parents on allowing animals near students on school campuses. It’s unclear why Ardell brought the dogs May 9, as she had previously visited without them, he says.
"You never expect the dog to bite somebody. Dogs are unpredictable,” Clark said.
Due to their reputations for aggression, both Chows and Akitas are backlisted from homeowners’ insurance policies in California.
“Under the laws in California, if you own a dog and it bites somebody, you are strictly liable – period. There's not a question of ‘Did you act reasonably?’ or ‘Was it negligent?’ The law doesn't even consider that,” Clark said.
The family’s claim does not list a specific dollar amount but is designated as “unlimited,” meaning exceeding $25,000. It says the family has incurred "substantial" medical bills to treat Leilani's injuries.
The school district issued a written statement saying officials immediately sought medical attention for Leilani after the incident. They also began an investigation into what happened.
Police say the dog that bit Leilani was quarantined by animal control and released May 11.