Learn how you can negotiate a dog bite claim without an attorney and recover your hard costs from the dog owner’s insurance company.
Dog bites are a common cause of personal injury claims, right behind car accidents and slip and fall injuries.
When you’ve been bitten by someone else’s dog, you have a right to expect the dog’s owner to pay for your damages. In most cases, that means filing a claim with the dog owner’s homeowners insurance company.
Severe dog attack injuries should be handled by a skilled personal injury attorney for the best outcome, especially if the victim is a child.
As an adult, you can probably settle a minor injury claim without an attorney by keeping a cool head and following the basic negotiation steps.
Once you begin negotiating with the claims adjuster, there are two categories of damages you’ll try to get the insurance company to pay:
- Special Damages are the ‘hard costs” of your dog bite claim, such as medical bills, lost wages, and out-of-pocket expenses. You can measure hard costs with bills, statements, and receipts.
- General Damages are also known as “pain and suffering.” There are no objective measurements for pain, suffering, and other forms of emotional distress from a dog attack.
Here we’ve organized a list of tips to help you establish a valid dog bite claim and successfully negotiate your hard costs.
Tips On This Page:
- Seek Immediate Medical Attention
- Report the Dog Bite to Local Authorities
- Find Out About the Dog Owner
- Check Your Local Dog Bite Laws
- Collect Evidence to Support Your Claim
- Know What Your Claim is Worth
- Watch What You Say to the Adjuster
- Emphasize You Did Nothing Wrong
- Don’t Take It Personally
- Get the Legal Help You Need
Tip 1: Seek Immediate Medical Attention
Immediate medical attention after a dog attack is essential to your personal health and safety, as well as your insurance claim.
If someone called 911, let the paramedics treat you at the scene. If they want to take you to the hospital, go with them.
If you are not transported directly to the emergency room, it’s important to see your primary care provider or go to an urgent care center right away. Even if you don’t need stitches, dog bites and scratches can cause serious diseases and infections without prompt treatment.
Tell every person who treats you exactly when, where, and how you were attacked. Describe the dog and identify the owner, as best you can. It’s important to create a link between your medical treatment and the dog attack.
Never refuse or delay medical treatment for a dog bite. The insurance company would jump at the chance to deny your claim, arguing that your injuries are not connected with their insured.
Tip 2: Report the Dog Bite to Local Authorities
Most states require medical care providers to report dog bites. In any case, be sure to report the dog attack to your local animal control department.
An animal control officer will contact the dog’s owner for proof of current rabies vaccinations and other health issues.
Animal control officers have the authority to:
- Have the dog tested for rabies
- Issue citations against the dog owner
- Order for the owner to confine or muzzle the dog
- Remove the dog from the location for observation
Dogs of any age and size can carry rabies and other diseases. You need to know what you’re dealing with, so don’t hesitate to report the dog attack to local authorities.
Tip 3: Find Out About the Dog Owner
You’ll need the name and address of the dog owner, as well as their contact information and the name of their insurance company. If they rent their home, try to get the landlord’s information, too.
If the owner is a stranger or ducking your attempts to speak with them, see if the information you need is in the police report or animal control report.
Follow up with the animal control officer to verify the health status of the dog and get a copy of their report. Also, ask if any other complaints have been made about the same dog or the dog’s owner.
If you find out the dog has a record of biting, or the owner has a history of complaints about letting their dogs run loose, you can use that information to support your insurance claim.
Tip 4: Check Your Local Dog Bite Laws
Depending on where you live, you can use state and local dog bite laws to support your claim.
Some states follow a “strict liability” rule that makes the owner responsible for their dog’s attack, even when the owner took every reasonable precaution.
A few states have a “one bite” rule that lets the owner off the hook if there was no reason to believe the dog would bite. You can still have a valid claim despite the “one bite” rule if you can prove the dog owner was negligent, like walking their dog without a leash.
When a dog owner fails to take reasonable action to prevent their dog from injuring others, the dog owner is negligent and responsible for damages. It’s up to you to show the insurance adjuster that their insured should have prevented their dog from attacking you.
Liability is a legal term for responsibility. Under most circumstances, the dog owner is liable for the victim’s damages when their dog bites someone.
Negligence happens when a dog owner does something wrong or fails to control their dog, as any reasonable dog owner would.
A reasonable dog owner knows when their dog might be a hazard to others. For example, if their dog lunges at strangers, snarls, snaps at children, or is aggressive toward other dogs, the owner should know the dog might hurt someone.
In most jurisdictions, owners and handlers of working military and police dogs are protected from liability from injuries caused by their dogs.
Tip 5: Collect Evidence to Support Your Claim
You can build a convincing dog bite claim by gathering strong evidence showing the dog owner’s negligence and the scope of your injuries.
- Photographs and videos can be important evidence of dog owner negligence. Try to get photographs and video of the dog running loose, holes in the owner’s fence, or anything else that shows the dog wasn’t properly restrained. Take pictures of your injuries right after the attack and throughout your recovery.
- Witness statements can be compelling evidence. Try to get written statements from anyone who saw the dog attack, and the folks who stopped to help you. Later you can get statements from neighbors who’ve witnessed prior aggressive behavior by the dog, or who saw the dog running loose.
- Medical expenses are the basis for calculating your demand for compensation. Request copies of all your medical records and bills, and save all receipts for your out-of-pocket medical expenses, like bandages and medications.
- Lost wages should be included in your compensation demand. Ask your employer for a lost wage statement detailing the time missed and your pay rate.
- Physical evidence should be preserved until your claim is settled. For example, your torn and bloody clothing should be put in a bag and kept safe. You can take pictures of the clothing to submit to the claims adjuster.
Tip 6: Know What Your Claim is Worth
You’ll be ready to calculate the value of your injury claim after you’ve completed your medical treatment. Gather all your medical bills, receipts, and a lost wage statement from your employer.
Always use the actual cost of your medical and pharmacy bills in your calculations, even if your private health insurance covered some of the cost, or the bills haven’t been paid yet.
Add up your hard costs, including:
- Ambulance bills
- Medical bills
- Therapy bills
- Out-of-pocket medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Transportation expenses for medical appointments
After you’ve totaled your hard costs, also called “special damages,” you can add one or two times that amount to account for your pain and suffering.
Tip 7: Watch What You Say to the Adjuster
In most dog bite cases, a claim is filed against the dog owner’s Homeowners Insurance Policy. After you submit a claim, you will receive a telephone call from the insurance company’s representative, known as a “Claims Adjuster.” Be prepared for the telephone call.
Speak with the adjuster as you would any other professional. You want the adjuster to take you seriously.
Stay in control and organized:
- Keep a steady tone of voice
- Avoid sarcasm
- Don’t sound desperate for money
- Pace yourself
Every adjuster has their own negotiation style and tactics. Some adjusters are brusque and rude. Others come off as sweet and sympathetic. Be especially wary of the sweet ones, who may lull you into saying things they can use to minimize or deny your claim.
During the first phone call, the claims adjuster may want to take your recorded statement.
Do not consent to give a statement when you are:
- Tired or stressed
- In pain
- Taking medications for pain
- Not prepared to answer questions
It’s okay to tell the adjuster you aren’t ready to give a recorded statement. Most attorneys advise against giving a recorded statement without your attorney present.
If and when you are ready, be very careful what you say. The adjuster will ask you a series of questions about the attack and your injuries. They may also make statements and ask if you agree. The adjuster can use anything you say against you.
Tip 8: Emphasize You Did Nothing Wrong
Tell the adjuster upfront that you were viciously attacked through no fault of your own.
Describe where you were and what was happening when you were attacked. You can say, for instance, you were walking home from the store on a public sidewalk, raking leaves in your own yard, or bicycling down the street when the dog attacked without warning.
Be sure to add that the dog attacked without any provocation.
Activities like singing along to your music player, delivering newspapers, or carrying fragrant take-out food, might get a dog’s attention, but they don’t count as provoking a dog to attack.
The adjuster knows they can deny or minimize your dog bite claim if they can pin some of the blame on you. For example, if you were:
- Taunting the dog
- Acting aggressively to the dog’s owner
- Trespassing into the dog’s home or yard
A few states, like Maryland and Virginia, follow the pure contributory fault rule, meaning the adjuster can deny your injury claim if you share any blame for the circumstances of the dog attack.
At the other extreme, states like California and New York have pure comparative fault rules. In these states, you can be the person most at fault and still seek compensation for your injuries.
Most states use modified comparative negligence rules, meaning your injury claim can be denied if you are equally to blame (50% rule) or more to blame (51% rule) than the dog’s owner. If your claim isn’t denied, the amount of eligible compensation can be reduced according to your share of fault.
Tip 9: Don’t Take It Personally
Don’t expect the adjuster to have genuine sympathy for your situation, no matter how terrible your dog bite experience was for you. Your claim is just one more file in a pile on their desk.
So don’t take it personally when the adjuster makes a ridiculously low-ball settlement offer to test the waters. They’re trying to find out if:
- You’re financially desperate
- You know your claim’s true value
- You are in a hurry
Stay cool. If the adjuster can get you upset, they can find out more than you want them to know.
Expect to go back and forth a few times with the adjuster. Always negotiate down from your original demand for compensation or last counteroffer, never up from the adjuster’s last offer.
If you can negotiate with patience and persistence, you should be able to reach a compromise settlement agreement that meets your needs.
Tip 10: Get the Legal Help You Need
If you didn’t talk to a personal injury attorney right after the dog attack, you still could get the legal help you need to resolve your injury claim.
You can talk to an attorney at any time, but if negotiations are stalled, be sure to keep an eye on the statute of limitations, meaning the legal deadline for settling your claim. If the statute runs out before you settle your dog bite claim, you forfeit your right to any compensation for your injuries.
Sometimes all it takes is a call from your attorney to get a fast and fair settlement offer from the insurance company.
Most injury attorneys don’t charge for their initial consultation, and there’s no obligation. It costs nothing to find out what a good injury attorney can do for you.
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