Dog attack victims are often able to pursue compensation for their injuries from the animal's owner. The settlement process begins by writing a letter to the owner notifying him that you intend to pursue a claim.
Let's use the example of a neighbor's dog biting you while you were jogging down the block. You were hurt badly and rushed to the hospital. Your leg required fifty seven (57) stitches to close the wound. You are now recovering and wondering what to do next...
The Notification Letter is the first step in negotiating a settlement of your personal injury claim. The Notification is NOT a Demand Letter. Now is not the time to demand anything, especially if you are still recovering from the attack and receiving medical or psychological treatment to help you cope (these incidents can be traumatizing to dog attack victims).
Following the steps below will give dog attack victims a much better chance of successfully settling their case for a fair amount.
A solid understanding of professional terminology goes a long way toward a good settlement. There are some important words and phrases you can use to make your letter sound professional. Doing this will give your letter added credibility and let the dog owner know you're serious. All of the terms below are used regularly by Insurance Companies and Attorneys.
Notice in the letter which follows there are some statements which may stand out. There's a purpose for this. A dog bite, in and of itself, is not something too many people will get "worked up" about. Using descriptive adverbs and adjectives is a sure way to make the reader stand up and take notice. For example...
"....doing all I can not to disturb dogs I have learned have a tendency to bark loudly." Inevitably there will be a question about whether you provoked the dog, that you came too close to the house or taunted the dog. Making it clear from the outset that you share no culpability in the attack is important. Statements like these are called "Affirmative Statements." They preemptively close the door to an accusation of provocation.
"Your dog grabbed onto my right calf, biting so hard I thought my leg had just been cut in half." This statement makes it abundantly clear the dog's actions were deliberate and life threatening. Make it clear that the dog just didn't bite you like some dogs do with a quick snap (maybe when you are giving a dog a treat and he gets a little too anxious and accidentally snaps at you), but that the dog really attacked you.
"The dog continued to tear at my flesh" is a graphic statement letting the owner and anyone else reading your letter know clearly how intense and painful the bite was.
"The pain became so overwhelming I felt I was going to pass out." This is another powerful description of the devastation of the dog attack.
"Searing hot pain" is another fine example. Remember you are trying to get the owner's attention, and eventually that of his insurance company.
"I stand to lose many thousands of dollars as well as present and future customers, all as a direct and proximate result of your negligence." Make it clear that you are losing your ability to make a living now AND into the foreseeable future, all due to the negligence of the dog owner.
"The Doctors told me with a hole that large in my leg there was a high probability scarring will occur." Here you are putting the owner on notice that the seriousness of this bite will have long lasting effects, and will probably require plastic surgery. A scar on a leg won't be worth as much as a scar on the face, but it still requires compensation.
"...my wife and I to sleep in separate beds." This is a sensitive part of some claims. Common law has long held that when a person is injured as a direct and proximate result of the negligence of another, and because of that injury cannot be intimate with their spouse, such loss of intimacy counts as damage recoverable like any other.
"The pain and suffering I have, and will continue to endure is indescribable." Another clear and convincing statement of the suffering this vicious attack has caused the dog attack victim, and that the pain and suffering won't end anytime soon.
"I have suffered severe depression, anxiety and guilt." People don't realize that these damages can be much more serious and longer lasting than just the physical injuries themselves. That is why you should not hesitate to put this kind of information in your letters.
A different letter from another dog attack victim might read, "The dog bit me and it hurt. I was bleeding a lot." Believe it or not the other dog attack victim's injuries and pain might have been more severe than yours, but the way he communicates that pain to the owner will not serve him well in settlement negotiations. If you were reading both letters which one would keep your attention?
Thousands of insurance claims are filed each day. Hundreds of thousands of letters are written from dog attack victims each year. You want yours to stand out and garner the attention and sympathy of the owner, and eventually his insurance company.
With a working understanding of the correct terms and phrases you are now ready to write the notification letter. In our example the letter is addressed to Mr. Art Belmondo - Dog Owner. It's important to make sure the letter contains the following:
(1) A sentence or two confirming the day and date of the attack.
(2) A statement confirming where you were and what you were doing immediately before the attack (running down the street as you have done hundreds of times before).
(3) A clear and unequivocal statement confirming that Mr. Belmondo's negligence in failing to control his dog makes him culpable for the damages you have suffered, and will continue to suffer.
(4) An initial listing of the damages you've already suffered and may continue to suffer into the foreseeable future. These include but are not limited to: pain and discomfort, mental anguish, loss of wages, doctors, plastic surgeons, psychiatrists and more.
(5) Conclude by telling Mr. Belmondo to turn your letter over to his Homeowners Insurance Company immediately, and remind him of the legal consequences if he does not.
(6) Finally, send all correspondence by Certified Mail, this way you have proof that the dog owner and/or insurance company received it.
It's a good idea to send a copy of your letter to your own insurance company. This way, in the unlikely event Mr. Belmondo's homeowners policy had lapsed for non-payment or if his limits aren't enough to pay for all your damages, your own insurance will likely step in to provide you with the additional funds. They will do this without holding the claim against you.
If your homeowners insurance does pay for your damages they will attempt to get the dog owner or his insurance company to pay them back. This process is called Subrogation.
Remember that this letter is NOT the Demand Letter, it is the Notification Letter. At this stage you have just been injured and are most likely still being treated. Once all or most of your recovery is complete you will send a Demand Letter to the owner's insurance company with a specific monetary demand. We'll address the Demand later.
Below is a SAMPLE letter of notification for dog attack victims:
(Your Name and Address) MR. JONATHAN L. PIERCE
15562 Ellington Avenue
Dallas, TX 75247
Telephone: (214) 689-XXX9
January 14th, 2011 (Date of Letter)
Mr. Art Belmondo (Name of Dog Owner)
15575 Empire Avenue
Dallas, TX 75247
Re: Dog Attack on December 12th , 2010 (Date of Loss)
Dear Mr. Belmondo:
On December 12th, 2010 I was enjoying my daily run. I have been running for the last 10 years and for most of that time I have taken the same route. I normally would leave my home on Ellington Avenue, proceeding down Main Street, past Empire Avenue and then back the same way. In all these years I have never been attacked by an animal. I have always run in the streets, doing all I can not to disturb dogs I have learned have a tendency to bark loudly.
It was about 7:15am the morning of December 12th. I was on the return leg of my run turning onto Empire Avenue, when suddenly and without warning or provocation from me I was attacked by a dog I later learned belongs to you. Your dog grabbed onto my right calf, biting so hard I thought my leg had just been cut in half. I did all I could to extricate myself, and in so doing was knocked to the ground. With your dog continuing to tear at my flesh the pain became so overwhelming I felt I was going to pass out.
The next thing I remember is a man yelling at the top of his lungs wielding a baseball bat. As he did your dog finally freed his vice-like grip from my calf. As the dog ran away a Good Samaritan, who I later came to know as Kenneth Norton, knelt down at my side asking if I was alright. I was still in what I can only describe as searing hot pain. I was bleeding profusely and had a gaping hole on my right calf. It was as if someone took razor blades and sliced my calf up and down.
When the Paramedics arrived they stabilized me and transported me to the Emergency Room at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. The bite was so severe my tibia bone was visible. X-rays were taken and revealed a fracture of the tibia. I received fifty seven (57) stitches and was kept in the hospital for two (2) days. During that time I was on a constant drip of saline and antibiotics. As you also know the Police were dispatched to your home to discern whether your dog was current in his shots.
Once released from the hospital I began my recovery. The dressing on my leg has to be replaced every four (4) hours, twenty four (24) hours of every day. I was ordered by my Doctors to keep off my feet as much as possible, because not doing so might cause the stitches to separate and infection to set in.
I own my own small construction company. Our customers are mostly homeowners. We build room additions, install new kitchens, paint homes and generally perform those functions needed by homeowners. I have two employees. Although they are here legally they are not fluent in English. There are projects I have received partial payments on and will be unable to finish for several months during my recovery.
I stand to lose many thousands of dollars as well as present and future customers, all as a direct and proximate result of your negligence. My employees are hard working and loyal laborers and have worked with me for over ten (10) years. They count on me to provide enough work so they can feed their families.
The Doctors told me with a hole that large in my leg there was a high probability scarring will occur. They advised me that plastic surgery would be able to eliminate much of the scar, but I would have to wait at least a year while the tear in my flesh properly healed.
During the first two (2) months of recovery the Doctors advised my wife and I to sleep in separate beds because an accidental kick by my wife could tear one or more of the stitches.
I have begun the long process of recovery. The pain and suffering I have and will continue to endure is indescribable. I have suffered severe depression, anxiety and guilt directly resulting from your negligence. I've accumulated medical, prescription, nursing and other bills as a direct and proximate result of your negligence in failing to control your dog that terrible day.
On December 12 my life was radically and inexorably changed forever. The damages I have suffered, and will continue to suffer include, but are not limited to the following:
Please turn this letter over to your insurance company immediately. If I do not hear from your insurance company within thirty (30) days of your receipt of this letter I will have no alternative but to seek all legal remedies available under the law.
Jonathan L. Pierce
CC: My Homeowners Insurance Company
Once you receive the US Postal Service Green Card confirming the date and time of delivery of your Notification Letter, you should mark on your calendar (2) dates:
1) The two (2) week mark (from the day the letter was received).
2) The thirty (30) day mark.
While waiting for a call from the insurance company make sure you read over your Notification Letter many times. When you finally do speak with the claims adjuster you want all the details of your account to remain consistent.
If you have a home telephone number and have listed that number on your Notification Letter, see if there is a way to forward any calls to your cell phone. That will decrease the chance of missing a call from the Insurance Company's claims adjuster.
If you haven't heard from the Adjuster by the two (2) week mark don't panic, adjusters can have hundreds of claims. But if you haven't heard from them by the 30 day mark you should call them up.
Imagine the claims adjuster calls you a week later. This is not the time to be aggressive and demanding. Keeping calm will go a long way toward settling your claim. All the Adjuster wants to do at the first call is take your recorded statement. She will ask permission to take your statement and then will say something like...
"My name is _____. I am the Adjuster for ABCD Insurance Company and the Claim Number is _____. I am speaking with Mr. Jonathan L. Pierce. Do I have your permission to record this call Mr. Pierce?"
You say "Yes." Then she will ask you to state what happened on the day of the attack. That is standard operating procedure. Just tell the truth and try to stick to what you said in the notification letter. At the conclusion of the telephone call be sure to get the insurance adjuster's name, address, telephone number, email address, and the claim number.
That should be the extent of your first contact with the Claims Adjuster. Do not expect the Adjuster to admit culpability for her client. She is investigating the case and hasn't drawn any conclusions yet. Tell her you will continue treatment and will contact her when it is almost complete.
From this point on continue your recovery and make sure you hold on to every single receipt related to your recovery, from the ambulance ride, to the receipts for parking at the doctors office, to the days you missed work, etc. Keeping organized records is extremely important.
It will be quiet for a while. Once your recovery is near completion it will be time to calculate your damages and send your DEMAND LETTER to the adjuster. That letter will start formal negotiations with the insurance company.