See our helpful hints as you follow a sample dialogue between a dog bite victim and the insurance adjuster as they negotiate a settlement.
Dog bite claims are one of the most common types of injury claims filed against homeowner’s insurance policies.
Here we walk you through a case example of a dog bite victim named James. Follow along as he negotiates a fair injury settlement from the dog owner’s insurance company.
James is a fictional character who negotiates and settles a minor dog bite case without the help of an attorney. The attack happened in a state with strict liability dog bite laws, meaning the dog owner is automatically liable for injuries, so it’s only a matter of negotiating the settlement amount.
In states with a “one bite rule,” if the dog had no prior history of aggression, the victim would have to prove the dog owner was negligent.
Always consult a personal injury lawyer for serious injury claims, disfigurement, or dog bite lawsuits involving children. Most attorneys offer free consultations for personal injury cases.
Case Example: Dangerous Dog Attacks Adult Jogger
James is a married man with a two-year-old son and lives in California. He works as an installer with the local cable company. He ran track in school and continues to run several days a week to stay in shape.
One Saturday morning, James went on a run and decided to alter his route, so he could pick up some fresh bagels to surprise his wife. Heading home with his sack of hot bagels, James was jogging through a residential neighborhood when a big, snarling dog charged through a rickety fence and attacked him.
James suffered dog bites to his right leg, hand, and arm before Steve (the owner of the dog) came running out and pulled the dog off James. A neighbor who witnessed the attack from her front porch called 911.
Paramedics transported James to the hospital for immediate medical attention, where he spent the rest of the day in the emergency department. James was examined and treated by a trauma surgeon and other doctors. He had an MRI of his knee to look for tendon damage and had more than 30 stitches to close the wounds in his leg.
He also required a dozen stitches to close bite wounds on his arm, and suffered cuts, bruises, and scrapes along his arms, shoulder, hip, and both knees from contact with the pavement during the attack. He had to take strong antibiotics for ten days to prevent infection.
After the stitches came out, James needed physical therapy to restore the movement in his knee and leg. His medical expenses added up to $4,500 and he missed more than two weeks from work.
James filed an injury claim with Steve’s homeowner’s insurance company shortly after the attack. When his wounds were healed, James sent the insurance company a compensation demand for $20,000.
Setting the Tone of Negotiations
Brian Miller is the insurance adjuster assigned to James’ dog bite injury claim. After reviewing the demand packet, Brian telephones James to discuss a settlement. Brian wants to settle the claim quickly, for as little money as possible.
Click the buttons to better understand insurance negotiation tactics.
ADJUSTER: James Smith? This is Brian Miller from the Typical Insurance Company calling about your injury claim. How are you today?
JAMES: Yes, this is James. I appreciate hearing from you. I’m looking forward to settling this claim. Have you looked at my letter dated October 9 that details my damages?Note that James wisely avoided saying “I’m fine” when the adjuster asked how he was doing. The adjuster would have used “I’m fine” as an admission that James was no longer affected by the dog bite. Watch what you say when speaking with the adjuster, especially when your conversation is being recorded.
ADJUSTER: I have reviewed your letter. I’ve taken a hard look at this and can’t come close to what you’re asking. That amount isn’t even close to my authority.The adjuster’s “authority” is the amount of insurance company money they are authorized to issue for a settlement. Settlements that exceed the adjuster’s authority must be approved by a supervisor. The adjuster’s authority is not the same as the insurance policy limits.
JAMES: So, tell me the amount you’re authorized to pay today. That will give me an idea of how close we are.The adjuster will try to side-step the amount of money he’s authorized to pay without a supervisor’s approval. Knowing the adjuster’s authority puts James in a stronger bargaining position. The adjuster doesn’t want to try to negotiate down from his top dollar.
ADJUSTER: I’ve looked over the bills you sent in, and we’re having a hard time getting medical bills for the MRI and physical therapy costs approved. We can’t see any reason for them.
JAMES: Sir, if you’ll take a look at the doctor’s notes from the emergency room, you’ll see the dog mauled my leg so badly that I needed more than thirty stitches for a gaping wound that ran from the side of my knee down around my calf. The MRI was ordered by the trauma surgeon who was called in to look at my leg because they needed to know if I would need emergency surgery to repair tendons.
The MRI results spared me from an operation. However, after the stitches came out, I couldn’t bend or extend my leg properly. Look at the doctor’s notes for that date and you’ll see the order for PT to help get my knee and leg working like it did before I was attacked by that vicious dog. If you read the therapist notes, you’ll see the therapy was a painful process, but it did restore the range of motion in my injured knee.Take the time to study your medical records while preparing your case so you can confidently explain why your costs are justified.
ADJUSTER: Okay, I can probably justify those expenses under the circumstances. I’m willing to approve the MRI and therapy bills. We can settle this claim today for $6,000.
JAMES: I think that offer is way too low, but I’ll think about it over the weekend and get back to you early next week.James was expecting a low-ball settlement offer, so he didn’t take it personally. Adjusters start with very low offers to “test the waters.” If they can upset the claimant, it will likely be easier to manipulate them into taking less. By staying calm, you’ll be better able to handle the adjuster’s negotiating tactics.
Using Evidence During Negotiations
James knew right away the offer was too low, however, he waited until the following Tuesday to get back in touch with the adjuster to show he was willing to wait for a better offer. James understands that negotiating with patience is more effective than rushing the process.
JAMES: Hi Brian. I gave your offer a good deal of thought and must tell you it’s substantially lower that what I can accept.
ADJUSTER: Well, how much would you accept?
JAMES: In the spirit of compromise, and to move this case along, I’m willing to reduce my demand to $18,000.James knows you should always negotiate down from your last demand. Never try to negotiate up from the adjuster’s low offer.
ADJUSTER: I don’t have authority anywhere near that.
JAMES: Well, this case certainly merits your going to get more authority.
ADJUSTER: I don’t see anything about your claim this week that’s different from last week.
JAMES: I’m having a hard time understanding why your company isn’t taking this case more seriously. This isn’t the first time your client’s dog has savagely attacked a person. I found out from Animal Control that the same dog attacked a mail carrier six months before I was attacked.
You’ve seen the pictures of the house and fence on the owners’ property. There’s no way that broken-down old fence would contain a big, dangerous animal like the one that bit me. There have been several complaints about that dog running loose and scaring people in that neighborhood.
That dog could have killed me and came close to maiming me for life. What’s it going to take? Does a young child have to be mauled to death before something is done?James is smart to remind the adjuster that there is plenty of evidence to show that the dog owner knew his dog was dangerous and failed to take reasonable care to protect innocent people from harm. The dog owner’s negligence makes him liable for James’ damages.
ADJUSTER: Look, I’m willing to tell you that my authority limit is $10,000. I’ve been doing this job for sixteen years and I’ve never seen a personal injury claim like yours settle for anywhere near the amount you’re asking.
JAMES: I don’t know why you continue to minimize my claim. Have you ever been knocked to the ground by a huge, snarling animal? I can tell you how terrifying it is to be in agonizing pain and feel your skin and flesh tearing while trying to push away a vicious dog that only let go long enough to sink its teeth into another part of your body. I didn’t think I’d ever see my wife and baby again. There was nothing I could do. My blood was everywhere. I’ve still got the bloody clothing I was wearing.
When my wife got to the hospital, I looked so bad she nearly fainted. You can see some of the pictures in the demand package I sent you. The scarring from deep lacerations on my arm and leg will never go away, and I still have trouble sleeping through the night. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over the nightmares from that attack.
I’m willing to settle this case, but the settlement amount has to be fair. I’m starting to wonder if I should contact a law firm.
ADJUSTER: You don’t want to talk to an attorney and end up paying legal fees. Let me see what I can do, and we’ll be back in touch.Here’s where James needs to be patient and wait for the adjuster to call. If he follows up too quickly, the adjuster will think he’s in a hurry and might be willing to settle for less to get it over with. The adjuster knows that James has collected good evidence of the dog attack and can give compelling testimony about his pain and suffering in a way that would impress a jury. An adjuster is willing to pay more to avoid an injury lawsuit when the claimant has already prepared a strong case.
Reaching a Compromised Settlement
The adjuster didn’t call back for more than a week. It was hard for James to wait, but his patience was rewarded with a good settlement offer.
ADJUSTER: Good morning, James. I’ve now been authorized to offer you a total settlement of $17,000 for your hard costs and your pain and suffering. If you agree, I can have the settlement agreement and the check delivered to you within the week.
JAMES: I can live with that. Thank you.Always confirm an agreed settlement in writing. When the agreement arrives, James will need to verify the the terms before signing the agreement and cashing the check.
James negotiated a good dog bite claim settlement that covers all his medical treatment expenses, lost wages, and nearly two times the amount of his hard costs to account for his pain and suffering.
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