Dogs bites are extremely common in the United States; approximately 1,000 people a day seek medical treatment for dog bites. More children are victims of dog attacks than are adults. Dog bite injuries range from just barely a skin prick, to a serious mauling and may even include fatal lacerations. Aside from the trauma of the actual attack, the victim now must deal with the physical and emotional distress of obtaining medical care and legal services. How do you determine if you have a case against the owner of the dog who attacked?
Dog bite victims may be entitled to recover for their medical expenses and other monetary losses under the dog owner’s homeowner’s insurance policy. It is advised that all homeowners who own a dog maintain a policy large enough to cover a personal injury case which may involve an attack by their dog, but what if they don’t? What if the the owner of the dog doesn’t have any insurance, or hasn’t enough insurance to cover the damages which were caused by his or her dog? What avenue does the dog attack victim have then?
While most homeowners have coverage within their homeowner’s insurance policy which includes dog bites, there may be restrictions on certain breeds of dogs. If you or a family member was attacked by a banned breed, you may still have a personal injury dog bite lawsuit. However, there are factors which will weigh into the decision to file a dog bite lawsuit. filing a lawsuit can be expensive. Often, this represents money that the victim doesn’t have to spend. Although attorney fees do add to the expense, that is not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about all the costs associated with civil litigation. These include the cost of filing the lawsuit, expert witnesses, collection of medical records, depositions, and court reporters. Even in smaller cases, the fees for litigation can add up to thousands of dollars. Many times a personal injury attorney will not take a case if it does not have economic value since attorney ethic rules maintain that the client is responsible for all costs associated with civil litigation.
The above scenario is true in cases where there is not proper insurance, since there is no guarantee damages can be recovered. Unfortunately, this means the client would be stuck with the cost of the injury plus the cost of litigation even in the event that the courts rule in the favor of the victim! The victim will still be left with the attorney and court fees even if there is a judgment against the dog owner.
Even if the dog bite victim wins at trial, only a judgment against the dog owner is awarded. A judgment gives you the ability to collect on the dog owner’s personal assets or garnish a small portion of his or her wages. Still, collection practices cost money and there is no guarantee enough will be collected to pay for all the fees associated with the dog bite personal injury case and collection. The process of collecting on a judgment also takes time and effort on the part of the attorney, which means more collection fees.
The dog bite owner can also file for bankruptcy, which will erase the judgment and debt leaving the dog bite victim with an expensive piece of paper. Since there are a lot of ways the dog bite victim can lose a lot of money in the litigation process, contingency fee attorneys will decline personal injury cases if there is no insurance policy available. If there is no guarantee of recovery through the insurance company, an attorney will turn down a case since it will waste a lot of time and money on the dog bite victim’s part.
The lesson here is that prudence is required on the part of both dog owners as well as potential dog bite victims. If you own dogs, especially breeds more prone to attacks, such as pit bulls, you must be careful to maintain control of your dogs and not allow them free access to harm others. And definitely maintain adequate insurance to account for possible injuries that may occur to others. If you have been harmed by a dog, seek the advice of a qualified attorney, especially one with experience with dog bite cases. But do not assume that you have a case and will receive compensation. There are many factors at play, including the insurance coverage of the dog owner in question.
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