10 Tips for Negotiating a Dog Bite Settlement Without an Attorney

Learn how to negotiate a dog bite settlement without an attorney and recover your economic costs from the dog owner’s insurance company.

When you are bitten by someone else’s dog, you have a right to expect the dog’s owner to pay for your damages, including medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. In most cases, that means filing a claim with the owner’s insurance company.

Serious injuries should be handled by a skilled personal injury lawyer 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.

Tips for Negotiating a Dog Bite Settlement:

  1. Seek Immediate Medical Attention
  2. Report the Dog Bite to Local Authorities
  3. Find Out About the Dog Owner
  4. Check Your Local Dog Bite Laws
  5. Collect Evidence to Support Your Claim
  6. Know What Your Claim is Worth
  7. Watch What You Say to the Adjuster
  8. Emphasize You Did Nothing Wrong
  9. Don’t Take It Personally
  10. Get the Legal Help You Need

There are two categories of damages you will pursue from the insurance company:

  1. Special Damages are the “hard costs” of a dog bite claim, such as medical bills, lost wages, and out-of-pocket expenses. You can measure hard costs with bills, statements, and receipts.
  2. General Damages are also known as “pain and suffering.” There is no objective measurement 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.

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 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 homeowner’s insurance company. If they rent their home, get their renter’s insurance information and the landlord’s contact details.

If the owner is a stranger or ducking your attempts to speak with them, see if the information 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 dog 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 dog owner responsible for any 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 owner is negligent and liable for damages. It’s up to you to show the claims adjuster that their insured should have prevented the dog from attacking you.

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 are important evidence. 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 from bystanders can be compelling. 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 Dog Bite Injury 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.

Add up your hard costs, including:

  • Ambulance bills
  • Medical bills
  • Therapy bills
  • Out-of-pocket expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Transportation expenses for medical appointments

After you’ve totaled your hard costs, add one or two times that amount to account for your pain and suffering. The total of your hard costs plus the added amount for suffering is a reasonable target settlement amount.

Keep in mind that both sides must compromise during settlement negotiations.

Tip 7: Watch What You Say to the Adjuster

In most dog bite cases, a claim is filed against the dog owner’s homeowner’s insurance policy. After you submit a claim, you will receive a telephone call from the insurance company’s representative, known as a Claims Adjuster.

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 dog bite incident and your injuries. They may also make statements and ask if you agree. Remember, 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

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 on their desk. So don’t take it personally when the adjuster makes a low-ball settlement offer to test the waters.

By making a low first offer, the adjuster is trying to find out if:

  • You’re financially desperate
  • You know your claim’s true value
  • You are in a hurry to settle

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, there’s still time. You can talk to an attorney at any time before you sign the settlement release.

If negotiations are stalled, keep an eye on the statute of limitations, which is the legal deadline for filing suit. If the statute runs out before you settle your claim or file a dog bite lawsuit, you forfeit your right to any compensation for your injuries.

Sometimes all it takes is a call from a dog bite lawyer to get a fast and fair settlement offer from the insurance company. Most injury attorneys offer a free consultation to dog bite victims, and there’s no obligation. It costs nothing to find out what a good injury attorney can do for you.

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>