Man’s Best Friend
Undoubtedly, a dog is man’s best friend. Dogs are loyal to a fault, very territorial, and very protective of their owners. Unfortunately, a dog’s protectiveness can sometimes result in a dog misinterpreting the actions of a stranger and sometimes when feeling threatened the dog can lash out. When the dog reacts, man’s best friend can often bite, scratch, or trip an unsuspecting human.
Negligence and Strict Liability
Typically for someone to be civilly liable for causing injuries you must prove that the individual was negligent. Negligence is a complicated concept that legal scholars have written books about, but also can be explained simply. Negligence occurs when you do something that you know has a significant likelihood that it will injure someone, but you do it anyway. For instance, if you drive through a red light, you know that there is a serious risk that you will collide with another driver and injure them. Therefore, if you drive through the red and do hit someone, and injure them, you are responsible for all the harm that you have caused.
However, there is a concept under the law called “strict liability”. Strict liability says that if someone does certain acts, whether they could have predicted that injury would occur or not, they are still responsible if someone gets injured as a result of the action.
An example of strict liability is any action by a dog that injures another. The dog owner may have been acting perfectly reasonably and safely, but if their dog hurts another, the owner is responsible for the injuries. For instance, you might open your door to get the mail. If despite your best efforts to keep your dog in, the dog runs out and bites or trips someone outside, the dog owner is responsible for the innocent bystander’s injuries. The same principle applies if you have chained your dog up and enclosed him by a fence, but your dog bites through the chain and burrows under the fence. If the dog hurts someone while he is out and about, you are responsible for the harm caused by your dog.
Tripping or Biting
The law of strict liability does not only apply to dog bites, but also applies to any injuries caused by a dog. For instance, if your dog runs under foot of a jogger and trips the runner, you are responsible for the trip and fall injuries of the jogger.
In fact, if your dog was to run after a jogger barking, and the jogger looks back to locate the dog and then the jogger trips, you are responsible for the injuries.
What to Do If You Are Injured By a Dog
The first thing you should do if you are injured by a dog is to locate the owner. Be sure that you get contact information for the owner so that you can later make a claim against the owner for your injuries.
The next thing to do, of course, is to seek emergency medical assistance. Even if you feel that the injuries are not bad, it makes sense for you to get them checked out. For one, if the dog has broken your skin you will want to get a rabies shot. Also, in terms of the first steps in establishing a case, you must be able to demonstrate that you were injured from the start. The best way to establish that you were injured as a result of the incident is to immediately seek medical attention. Going to the E.R. or Urgent Care the same day of the injury is the best course as a first step in your case.
When you go to see a medical provider, it is essential that you tell the doctor every part of your body that is hurting and how the pain feels in that part. For instance, don’t just tell the doctor your left side hurts, but instead tell him, my left leg, left knee, left hip, left elbow and left shoulder hurt. (if that is the case). As to each injured body part describe how it is feeling. For instance, you might say that the pain in my left leg is burning, the pain in my left knee is throbbing, the pain in my left hip is stabbing, and the pain in my left elbow is aching. Let the doctor know the intensity of each pain.
The next thing to do is to immediately contact animal control. Make a report of the incident and ask that the dog be checked out by animal control for proof of current vaccinations. Also, it is a good idea to find out from animal control if there have been any incidents with the same dog in the past. If so, you can use this history to demonstrate that the dog owner was grossly negligent in not controlling their animal. That the owner had knowledge of the dangerous propensities of the animal will be important in any claim that you make.
Then, you should contact an attorney to discuss your case. Many attorneys, including we at Foos Gavin Law Firm will see you for a free consultation to discuss your case. Just contact us at www.foosgavinlaw.com. When you go to see your attorney be sure to bring in any relevant paperwork including contact information for the dog owner, records of your medical treatment, and contact information for animal control.
How Your Case Will Progress
The first thing your attorney will do is contact the animal owner to determine any insurance coverage. Most homeowner’s insurance will cover injuries caused by an animal. If there is no homeowner’s insurance your attorney can explore if there are other forms of insurance or if the dog owner has any significant assets that you can go after.
The next thing that your attorney will do is to make sure that you are receiving reliable medical care. We at Foos Gavin Law Firm refer clients to a number of extremely competent medical providers. If you don’t have insurance we can arrange that you will just pay the doctors out of any settlement that you receive.
It is very important while your case progresses that you continue to treat with your doctors, and that you follow all the directive of your medical providers. Nothing damages a client’s case more than if they are non-compliant with the doctor’s orders or if they miss medical appointments.
The next thing that you can do to help your case is to keep a log of how the injuries are making you feel. Make a couple entries a week of your pain level and activities that you have been unable to do because of the pain. Also, be sure to keep a list of all the medical providers that you see, including their names, addresses and phone numbers.
The Next Steps Your Attorney Will Take
At some point in your case, often after you have completed your medical treatment, your attorney will gather all the relevant information including the police report, medical records, medical bills, employment records, and any other records of out of pocket losses to you. Your attorney will use all this information to prepare a demand letter for the insurance company. The letter will contain information of the facts of the incident, your bills and material losses, and your human losses (such as your pain, activities you have had to forego, and permanent injuries you have suffered). You and your attorney will decide on a figure to offer to settle the case. Keep in mind that the sum that your attorney will offer initially, is not the final figure that the matter will settle for. The demand letter begins a negotiation, and there will be quite a bit of back and forth before a compromise is reached. Your attorney will keep you posted every step of the way along the negotiations.
Filing a Lawsuit
If you are not able to settle the matter when negotiating with the insurance company, the next step would be to file a lawsuit. The decision to file a lawsuit is an important one, because once a lawsuit is filed many more expenses are incurred, and much more time is expended. To fight a case in court there are filing fees to the Court, costs of taking depositions (a sworn statement under oath with a court reporter recording it, of any number of witnesses). Also, at some point if the case is not settled you will incur the cost of hiring expert witnesses such as doctors and accident reconstructionists. These experts are extremely expensive charging many hundred dollars and hour for their time. Therefore, you and your attorney will have to collaborate and go into a lawsuit with your eyes wide open.
Once a lawsuit is filed there will still be opportunities to come to a compromise resolution. A tool that is often used these days is a mediation, in which the parties pay a retired judge or experienced attorney as a go-between to help the parties resolve the case. A mediation session will usually last for a day, you will be present with your attorney, and the mediator will shuttle back and forth between your room and the other side’s room speaking to each side, divulging some information and opinions on the value of the case should the case go to a trial.
Only about one in a hundred cases actually go to a trial, but if your case does go as far as a trial, it is usually a many day affair with lots of witnesses and lots of preparation. The anatomy of a trial will be covered in a future article.