K9s for Warriors may lose help from volunteers

Legal action could lead to charity hiring part-time workers

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Nonprofit organization K9s for Warriors is facing legal action from one of its volunteers, which could lead the group to start having to pay for part-time workers, instead of relying on the help over 1,500 volunteers.

The charity, headquartered in Ponte Vedra Beach, pairs together service dogs with veterans with post-traumatic stress disability, traumatic brain injury or military sexual trauma as a result of military service post 9/11.

One of the volunteers allegedly tripped on the charity’s campus in Nocatee. K9s for Warriors President Shari Duval said that afterward it received a letter of demand from law firm Morgan & Morgan. Duval said that has made the volunteer program too much of a liability.

So instead of relying on the volunteers to help care for the dogs, Duval said the organization will have to hire part-time workers, which the nonprofit organization will have to come up with money to pay for.

K9s for Warriors relies on nearly 1,500 volunteers to take the dogs to a dog park and walk them. But now the question is: Who’s going to be on the other end of the leash without costing K9s for Warriors $250,000 extra a year?

“If there’s a will, there’s a way. We will do that. But the most important part was the fact that the volunteers made such a huge impact on our veterans,” Duval said.

Duval bragged about the volunteers to News4Jax Thursday. She said even when money was tight, they were there.

“They have really been the heart and soul of our organization,” Duval said. “Since our inception, which was five years ago, when money was very limited. And it still is. Our volunteers stepped in to fill the gap.”

But now that gap will be even larger because of the money the organization will have to pay part-time workers.

As of May, over 200 dogs and veterans have been paired together, providing companionship and comfort that they need to adjust back to civilian life.

A second indoor-outdoor kennel is under construction at the K9s for Warriors so it can get more dogs, serve more warriors and shorten the one-year waiting list.

Morgan & Morgan sent the following statement Thursday to News4Jax:

"We have not submitted any demand whatsoever to K9s for Warriors Corporation. The statements made in that regard are 100% false. We sent them a request to disclose if they had any liability insurance which may have been purchased to pay for our client’s medical bills and damages. They did in fact purchase such a liability policy and disclosed it to our firm. They purchased this policy for occurrences exactly like this one.

"Our claim is against the insurance company.  We are not seeking any personal money from K9s for Warriors Corporation whatsoever and have no intention of doing so.  To say otherwise is misleading and not in line with the facts.  No demand for money has been sent.  To say otherwise is also misleading.  Our client did not “trip” on the corporation’s property.  Once again, to say otherwise is misleading.

"The real facts are that this corporation pays premiums to an insurance company to provide them with coverage when someone is injured during the course and scope of their duties with the corporation.  This is common practice in this industry.

"Our client is a 67 year old woman who served in the Army for 28 years before retiring as a Lt. Colonel, and who now volunteers for local charities.  Her elbow was shattered so badly that it could not be reconstructed by the surgeons at Baptist South, who had to surgically remove the joint and give her an artificial elbow.  She also suffered multiple fractures of her arm requiring another surgery, and a fractured knee cap.  She has now been told by her doctors that she will never have full use of her reconstructed arm again.

"She suffered these injuries as a brand new volunteer at this corporation.  She was told to walk a Labrador on a leash with a history of running off and dragging volunteers.  She was given no warning about the animal’s history.

"In fact, 3 days after it happened, the K9s company internally posted a memo, which we have obtained, that says:   “We need to be very careful with our little yellow lab, Duke…  Duke has claimed more "victims" in the chute than any other dog, yanking people right over.”

"Sadly, our 67 year old female client was one of the “victims” who was walking him in the chute, when he took off suddenly, dragging her with him.  She received no warning or special instruction about the dog, despite what the company internally admitted it knew.  She is simply seeking to have her medical bills and damages paid, for something that should have never occurred. K9s’ insurance company, not K9s, will be responsible for paying these damages.

"K9s for Warriors is a very worthy organization that our firm has contributed to in the past and will do so in the future.  Regrettably, it appears that either the facts of this case are not known to those who have made the statements on behalf of the corporation, or they are being told what to say by the insurance company who is responsible for paying in an attempt to create public pressure. If we were to drop this woman’s case, the insurance company would not have to pay for her damages. They would get a free pass.

"We have the utmost respect and admiration for our veterans.  Our client in this case is a retired Army Officer who served her country admirably for 28 years.  We have also represented thousands of other veterans in our nearly 30 years as a law firm.

"K9s has no financial reason to discontinue any service as they will not be personally responsible for paying any portion of this claim. A misleading statement such as that is made to inflame the passions of the public.  It is a common insurance company tactic. We believe their insurance company may have requested they take this public position in an attempt to deter us from getting our client compensated for her medical bills and damages. Our client is very disheartened by the misrepresentations made so far by those who know better."