Dog Bite Lawsuit Settlement Basics
After a dog bite incident, a settlement is the last thing on your mind. After the initial shock of the incident wears off, you may start to think about the time and money ahead of you with a dog bite lawsuit. Lawsuits often include depositions where lawyers ask you questions. It can take years even to get a trial date. Both parties may want to avoid the costs and delays of a trial and the work leading up to one. Both parties may start thinking about making or accepting a settlement offer.
This article reviews some of the most frequently asked questions for dog bite lawsuit settlements so you can make the right choice moving forward. Whether a settlement is right depends on your situation, so make sure you speak with a personal injury lawyer in your state before making any big decisions.
- What do I do after a dog attack?
- Is a dog bite injury a personal injury case?
- Who pays in a dog bite lawsuit?
- Does an insurance company pay for a dog bite?
- How do I start settlement negotiations?
- How do you make a settlement offer?
- Where do I send a settlement letter?
- What terms of art do I need to know when sending a settlement letter?
- What does a dog attack settlement letter need?
- How do I send a settlement offer?
- Can I represent myself in a dog bite settlement?
- Is there a time limit to settle a dog bite claim?
- How does an attacking dog's owner find a dog bite claim lawyer?
- How does the victim find a lawyer?
- How much are dog bite cases worth?
- What are the dog bite statutes in my state?
- What kind of damages can I get in a dog attack?
- What dog bite factors affect dog bite claim settlements?
- Can I mediate a settlement?
- Should I settle my dog bite case?
- What happens if I can't settle my dog bite case?
- How do I make sure a dog bite victim does not sue later?
- How long does it take dog bite victims to get their settlement money?
- Hire an attorney
What do I do after a dog attack?
The top priority after a dog attack is ensuring everyone is safe. This includes dog owners, dogs, and anyone who has an injury. Call 911 for medical attention and medical treatment if needed. Animal control will check the dog if necessary.
Law enforcement officers will take statements from witnesses and gather evidence. This goes into a dog bite report. You should take your own pictures and videos. Ensure you get the dog owner and witness contact information to follow up with later.
Is a dog bite injury a personal injury case?
Yes. When most people think of personal injury cases, they think about car accidents. After all, those are the most common personal injury lawsuits we hear about in the media. Personal injury cases can involve physical or emotional injuries.
Dog attacks often involve physical injuries like dog bites, scratches, and broken bones. In the most severe cases, those physical injuries include wrongful death. Emotional wounds from a dog attack could include emotional distress, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and phobia of dogs.
Who pays in a dog bite lawsuit?
This depends on a few factors. Typically, the owner of the dog pays damages to a victim. Insurance companies often make these payments under the dog owner's homeowner or renter's insurance policy. Sometimes, landlords or dog walkers are liable.
Does an insurance company pay for a dog bite?
Regardless, if someone makes an insurance claim, the insurance policy determines if it covers it. Depending on where the event happened, renter's insurance, homeowner's insurance, and even car insurance policies could cover a dog bite claim.
How do I start settlement negotiations?
Your first step is to determine if you need legal advice. You must know the law about dog bites in your state to enter settlement negotiations. You must know the strength of your case or your defense before you can make an offer. Some states do not have specific dog bite laws.
Next, you or your lawyer must send a demand letter to the other side. You can find the other party's information on the police report of the incident or through investigation after the dog attack.
How do you make a settlement offer?
If your dog bites someone, you start by sending a settlement letter to the victim. Dog attack victims send a demand letter to the dog owner. The letter can come before or after the filing of a dog bite lawsuit.
Where do I send a settlement letter?
If either side has an attorney, you cannot send your letter to the other person directly. You must send your letter to their attorney or insurance adjuster. An attorney will send you a letter of representation or note that they represent the other side in their demand letter.
What terms of art do I need to know when sending a settlement letter?
The plaintiff is the person typically sending a letter first in a dog bite case. They are the injured person and the person who filed a dog bite lawsuit. The defendant is typically the dog owner or person receiving the letter. They are the person getting sued.
What does a dog attack settlement letter need?
Your letter should include:
- An offer to settle the case for a certain amount of money.
- A monetary amount for the full and final settlement of the claim. You will determine this amount based on your medical expenses, pain and suffering, and lost wages (if any).
- A deadline to respond to the settlement offer. Review the law in your state, but typically, a 30-day window is standard in most states.
- Proof of the injury to support your demand amount, like medical expenses, medical records, or photographs.
How do I send a settlement offer?
You should send the settlement offer letter through certified mail or tracked mail with a commercial carrier like UPS or FedEx. You can also email your demand letter but know you should also send a physical copy. This is important if you have not made contact with the person before. Tracked mail is a way to show a court that you made a good faith offer to settle before filing your dog bite lawsuit. Some states require you to make an offer or enter into good faith negotiations before filing in their court.
Can I represent myself in a dog bite settlement?
Yes, though it is not typically advised. You can send a letter or accept an offer if you do not have a lawyer. If you are the victim of a dog bite without a lawyer, then you won't have to split settlement fees with them.
The risk in proceeding with a dog bite settlement on your own is that you may get less money than you would with one. An experienced dog bite lawyer knows how much a dog bite case and dog bite injuries are worth in your area.
The dog owner, or defendant, can avoid the risk that a jury might award a large judgment to the victim by making an offer to settle. If you are the dog owner and have insurance, you must check with your insurance company first to ensure you can accept or send a settlement offer. Insurance companies have a lawyer to represent their interests when someone makes a claim against their policy.
Is there a time limit to settle a dog bite claim?
There is a time limit to file a dog-bite lawsuit. This is a statute of limitations or prescription period. Some states have a one-year statute of limitations, and others have up to three years. If you do not file your lawsuit in court during that time, then you cannot file a dog bite lawsuit based on that dog attack.
There is no time limit to settle a claim outside of an internal deadline sent by the other side in a demand letter. Courts generally encourage the parties to settle outside of a trial through mediation. Courts will typically accept a settlement at any time.
How does an attacking dog's owner find a dog bite claim lawyer?
If you are the biting dog's owner, your insurance company will provide an adjuster. A defense attorney is assigned to your case if you cannot settle through the adjuster. If your insurance company's policy covers the claim, an attorney is included with your insurance premiums. There is no extra cost or need to search for a defense attorney. But you should know that the client relationship is between the attorney and your insurance company.
How does the victim find a lawyer?
If a dog attacks you, your loved one, or your dog, you should find a personal injury lawyer like a dog bite attorney. Typically, you will look for someone in the state where the dog bite case happened, but it could also be an attorney where you live. Most personal injury law firms offer free case evaluations.
In a dog bite lawsuit, you will not typically use your insurance company first. You have to find a dog bite lawyer on your own. You may use your insurance company first if the aggressor dog's owner does not have insurance or their insurance does not cover your medical bills and expenses. You can file a claim under your own insurance company at that point.
How much are dog bite cases worth?
The average dog bite settlement in 2022 was $64,555. Insurance companies paid out $1,136 million in dog bite settlements in 2022. The amount of compensation depends on state laws and the severity of injuries.
Does dog owner liability matter in a dog bite case?
The amount of liability, or fault, depends on the dog bite statute of that state. The issue of fault is a common sticking point in dog bite lawsuit settlements.
What are the dog bite statutes in my state?
Each state has its own laws about dog bites or personal injury. Some breed restriction legislation and dog bite laws (local laws or state laws) name certain dog breeds as dangerous. These breeds may include pit bulls and Rottweilers.
Dog bite statutes include:
- Strict liability. This is where the dog owner is responsible for the dog's actions. Some states exclude victim damages where the victim was trespassing or provoking a dog.
- One-bite rule. This rule generally allows a dog one bite without the owner being at fault or liable.
- Comparative negligence. A court views fault in light of what both parties were doing during the incident.
What kind of damages can I get in a dog attack?
An experienced personal injury lawyer can give you legal advice on the damages available in your state, but in general, there are compensatory damages and punitive damages.
Personal injury claims allow for two kinds of compensatory damages. These are damages that award a monetary amount to the plaintiff or victim.
- Special damages are economic losses that are directly related to the dog bite. These losses are easy to calculate, like the total cost of medical expenses or surgery. An agreement on special damages is most easily reached where the injured party can produce documentation of all their costs and evidence connecting the treatment or expense to the dog bite incident.
- General damages are claims for noneconomic injuries directly related to the dog bite. This can be pain and suffering, emotional distress, or disfigurement. These damages are more challenging to calculate because there is no invoice for pain and suffering like there is for medical expenses. Courts, through experts, witness testimony, and special claim calculators and formulas, decide the amount of general damages. Sometimes, juries make this decision. A multiplier is applied to the calculation based on the egregiousness of the situation.
The other category of damages in a dog attack is punitive damages. These damages are to punish the defendant for their outrageous conduct. These damages help deter future cases because people will not want to pay astronomical amounts. An example of punitive damages would be a dangerous dog previously cited for biting someone left in a front yard with no fence. The dog mauled a child, causing their wrongful death. The dog owner knew their animal had dangerous tendencies and did not keep them under control, so punitive damages may be awarded.
What dog bite factors affect dog bite claim settlements?
Insurance coverage limits may restrict the amount a plaintiff can claim or expect to collect. An insurance company can only pay the limits of a policy. If the defendant has $25,000 in homeowners insurance, then insurance can only pay out $25,000 to a victim. If the victim has $100,000 in medical bills, they must sue the homeowner personally or file a claim under another insurance policy.
The damages awards previously given within the local area often influence the amount a party will settle for. Rural juries may offer smaller amounts for a dog bite than those in suburban or urban courts. Highly publicized dog attacks can also raise dog bite lawsuit settlement amounts since juries exposed to those stories will likely penalize an owner more seriously.
Can I mediate a settlement?
Yes. Courts often encourage neutral third parties or companies to help settle a case outside of trial. Arbitration and mediation with a neutral third party help both sides be heard and try to come to an agreement.
Should I settle my dog bite case?
Personal injury cases and their settlement depend on a variety of factors. If your dog was dangerous, a death was involved, or you were trespassing, you may want to settle.
What happens if I can't settle my dog bite case?
File a lawsuit if you have not done so yet. Determine if you want a jury trial and ask for notice. If you filed a lawsuit, then you will need to start to prepare for trial. This may include issuing legal pleadings like subpoenas to get evidence.
How do I make sure a dog bite victim does not sue later?
If you settle, then all parties should sign a settlement agreement. This prevents either party from suing the other for the dog bite incident. In exchange for settlement money, the victim agrees to dismiss their lawsuit or not file one.
The parties can sue each other under contract law if they breach the settlement agreement. Examples of breaching a settlement agreement include not paying the amount on time. If you signed a nondisclosure agreement, discussing the case with the media or online is a breach.
How long does it take dog bite victims to get their settlement money?
This depends on a variety of factors. Typically, insurance companies issue checks according to the terms and conditions found in your policy. Other times, the parties agree on a specific date or due at signing. A reasonable time frame to expect a payout is 15 to 30 days from a settlement agreement.
Dog Bite Attorneys Can Help With a Dog Bite Lawsuit
The expense and risk of a dog bite lawsuit give both parties reasons to settle. A dog bite lawsuit settlement can help both parties resolve the case fairly and efficiently. But, if you have yet to consider all factors carefully, it could result in an unfair outcome or one you regret accepting later. Contact a personal injury attorney to discuss your dog bite lawsuit and a fair settlement.
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Contact a qualified personal injury attorney to make sure your rights are protected.