Have you or a loved one been bitten by a dog and suffered an injury that required medical treatment? It’s understandable to be upset and frustrated, especially immediately following the incident. This is especially true in cases where the dog owner was blatantly negligent, such as situations where the dog wasn’t on a leash or in a fenced-in areadog, and doubly so when the dog has a reputation for being aggressive or otherwise unfriendly.

You have the right to sue the negligent owner of a dog that has bitten you or a loved one, and doing so doesn’t make you a dog or animal hater. Serious dog bites can result in painful, long and expensive medical treatments and sometimes even rehabilitation and recovery periods.

This can affect your employment, quality of life, your children’s education and potentially many other facets of your day-to-day life. You have a right to compensation for any losses as well as emotional pain or trauma arising from the dog bite event.

How Insurance Companies Approach Dog Bites

Dog bites are generally covered under homeowners or renters policies, the maximum payout of which is dependent upon the policy itself and any umbrella policies the dog owner may possess. The insurance company will first evaluate the claim to determine its validity and whether the requested settlement amount is reasonable.

If it’s a valid case the insurance company will generally respond to the claim with a settlement offer – typically 10% to 50% of the initial claim. The dog bite victim and their attorney can choose to either accept this offer or continue negotiating.

Whether or not the case goes to trial generally has to do with the merits of the case and the owner’s policy limits. For example, if your homeowners policy covers you up to $100,000 for liability and you have an umbrella policy that covers you for an additional $1 million then your insurance company can settle for up to $1.1 million. If the plaintiff demands nothing short of $1.5 million then your insurance company will pay to fight the case.

One of the benefits of having insurance is the company’s obligation to pay for legal defense should this situation arise. Even if the insurance company was willing to pay the $1.1 million outright, they will still foot the bill for representation.

Should the plaintiff win the higher amount in court, the sued party will have to make up the difference, which in the above hypothetical case would be $400,000. This often results in the person being sued filing for bankruptcy, unless they have a spare $400,000 to pay the remainder of the verdict.

What to Do if Your Dog Bites Someone

This is highly dependent on the situation, but there are some rules of thumb:

  • Don’t be rude to the victims. Becoming defensive or blaming the victim can often provoke a worse reaction and increase the likelihood of legal actions. Show concern but don’t apologize or in any way admit guilt.
  • If your dog is aggressive and the victim didn’t do anything drastic to provoke the bite then it may be in your family’s best interest to get rid of the dog.
  • If you receive a letter from the victim’s attorneys it’s important to be cooperative but not to divulge more information than you have to. Their initial inquiries will likely be about your insurance coverage, which you should answer honestly. If they begin asking you about the details of the incident it’s best to refer those questions to your counsel.

If you or a loved one have suffered a dog bite or been bitten by someone’s pet due to the negligence of the owner, you may be entitled to compensation. Personal injury attorney Dan Farnsworth, Jr. is dedicated to helping injury victims in the Greenville area, and he’d be happy to sit down with you during a free consultation to discuss the particulars of your case.