A judge said Monday he is inclined to allow a couple who sued the West Hollywood-based dog walking company Wag! over the 2019 death of their 10 1/2-year-old French bulldog to take their case to trial, but said he would study the issues further before making a final ruling.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David J. Cowan had issued a tentative ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, Brandon Engholm and Brittany Rawlings, as well as the Animal Protection and Rescue League Inc., all of whom opposed Wag!’s motion to compel arbitration.
Cowan said that before issuing his final ruling, he wanted to review in more detail whether Wag! met its burden to establish that a valid arbitration agreement existed.
The suit’s allegations include fraud and negligence. The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, as well as an injunction preventing the company from withholding information about injuries or deaths to their pets.
“Specifically, plaintiffs relied upon and believed Wag!’s advertisements that Wag!’s dog walkers were certified for trust and safety, were insured and bonded and were vetted through background checks to ensure each dog walker is competent, qualified and trained in the care and safety of pets in or related to Wag!’s custody, and that if anything goes wrong, Wag! would make it right,” according to the suit.
Engholm and Rawlings say they did not know about the fate of their pet until they were contacted by a veterinarian. In addition, Engholm stated in a sworn declaration offered in opposition to Wag!’s motion that the company never told him anything about arbitrating disputes.
“When I signed up for the Wag! dog walking service a few years ago and before the March 3, 2019, fatal incident, I did so on my phone and was never shown any terms of service,” Englholm says. “Nor did I see any disclaimer that I would be waiving any of my rights. I did not agree to any arbitration provision and would not have agreed to any such provision had I been asked to.”
In his tentative ruling, Cowan wrote that Wag! “has not provided any evidence as to how it gives users notice of the (terms of service) or updates to the (terms of service) or how their site or app operates…”
Attorneys for Wag! argue arbitration “is warranted here as there is an agreement to arbitrate the claims brought by Engholm and Rawlings and APRL’s claims are inextricably intertwined with the underlying claims.”
A Wag! representative previously issued a statement regarding the lawsuit.
“While we don’t comment on pending litigation, ensuring the safety and security of all those who use the Wag! platform is of utmost importance to us,” the statement read.
According to the suit, a Wag! walker arrived at the plaintiffs’ New York City home on March 3, 2019, to take their French bulldog, Burger, on a 30-minute walk.
After learning from the vet that the dog had died, the dog owners were given no help from Wag! customer service, which stated it had no history of a walk of Burger that day, the suit states.
“Plaintiffs had to relive Burger’s last moments up to the killing by piecing together external video surveillance from local businesses along (the believed to be) route Wag!’s inhumane dog walker took,” the suit alleges.
A video image included in the suit shows the walker looking at her cellphone with the elderly dog walking far behind her. The last video shows Burger walking slowly and alone in a crosswalk as he is run over by an SUV while the walker was on the sidewalk, the suit states.
Witnesses told the plaintiffs that immediately after the dog was run over and struggling to stay alive, the walker did not render aid, but instead stood there, repeating her concern she could lose her job with Wag! and saying that she was going to miss a concert that day with friends, according to the suit, which includes a photo of a witness collapsing in tears at the sight of the dog being hit by the vehicle.