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Dog Attack Cases FAQ

Can you tell me how much my case will settle for or what a verdict would be?

A: With respect to most cases the truthful answer is “no.” The reason for this is that there are many, many factors that go into determining the value of a claim.  Some of these factors are how much time you have missed from work, whether you are likely to miss work in the future, or whether your injuries will require a change in your occupation, what future medical care you are reasonably certain to need and whether your injury is of a type that could likely get progressively worse over time. Once you are through your healing period and many of these factors are known and your prognosis is known an experienced personal injury attorney can give you a fairly accurate range into which your case will likely fall. Ahead of this time, however, when many of the factors are yet unknown, it is much more difficult to determine the range within which your case will likely settle. Some attorneys will suggest a rather large figure to you when they first meet with you. This is usually just an attempt to impress you and get you to hire the attorney.  Be very wary if this ever happens to you.

Because most dog attack claims will involve mild to moderate scarring it can be advisable to wait to see how the scar will heal and if it can be surgically improved before attempting to settle the claim. Periodically photographing the scarring during the healing process provides effective documentation of what you have had to endure.

Because of the very nature of dog attack injuries nerve injuries are not uncommon. Nerves regenerate very slowly. This means that it could be a considerable period of time before it will be known whether nerve function will be fully restored.

How are attorneys paid in these kinds of cases?

A: Most all personal injury claims are handled on what is known as a “Contingency Fee” basis.  That means that you pay no attorney fees unless there is a settlement or verdict in your case. The fee is then taken from the settlement or verdict proceeds. A Contingency Fee of 33 1/3% is standard for vehicle collision cases. The Contingency Fees in medical malpractice and product liability cases are typically 40% to 45%. That is because those cases are extremely expensive to pursue, often difficult to prove and are very vigorously defended.

With any Contingency Fee case the client does remain responsible for file costs that are incurred in pursuing the claim. These typically include things such as the cost of obtaining a copy of your medical records, the accident report, filing fees if a lawsuit is commenced, the cost of depositions taken during the litigation and expert witness fees.

How long do I have to bring my claim?

A: Dog attack claims must be placed into litigation within six years of the date of the attack or the claim will be forever barred. In the unlikely event that the attack resulted in death, the claim must be brought within three years. In most cases attempts to settle the claim will be made before resorting to litigation is considered. You have control of this decision.

Must the dog have attacked before so the owner had notice it was vicious?

A: At common law the owner of a dog was responsible for the harm caused by the dog only if you could show that the owner knew or should have known that the dog was dangerous or otherwise possessed a vicious propensity.  What became known as the “one bite rule” was the law of the land.  That is, only once a dog had bitten somebody the first time was the owner on notice that the dog might bite others.  So in essence the dog owner got a pass on responsibility for the harm caused by the first bite incident.

Minnesota has, however, enacted a statute that supersedes the “one bite rule.”  That statute provides:

If a dog, without provocation, attacks or injures any person who is acting peaceably in any place where the person may lawfully be, the owner of the dog is liable in damages to the person so attacked or injured to the full amount of the injury sustained.

No more free passes and no need to show the owner of the dog knew it might be dangerous.  If the dog causes harm there is legal responsibility for the harm caused.

What if I miss time from work?

A: Unlike our No-Fault system that applies to injuries suffered in a motor vehicle collisions, or our Workers’ Compensation system, both of which provide for an immediate way to recover for lost earnings, there is no such comparable provision under the insurance that covers dog attack claims. Your lost earnings are still an element of damages in your Bodily Injury claim but there is not a way, legally, to get these losses immediately reimbursed.

What if the bite leaves a scar?

A: Scarring is one of the most common residuals in dog attack claims. Payment for the disfigurement that the person will have on a permanent basis is one of the more significant elements of damages in dog attack cases. After the wound has had sufficient time to heal it is prudent to see a plastic surgeon to discuss whether the location and type of scar is such that its appearance can be substantially improved with surgery. Before attempting to negotiate settlement in cases involving significant scarring we will often seek a narrative report from a plastic surgeon outlining what, if anything, can be done to improve the appearance of the scar and if something can be done what the cost of that procedure will be.

What should I bring when I meet with an attorney?

A: It is not critical that you bring anything in particular with you to the first meeting with an attorney. Any of the following, however, that you have readily available to you will be helpful to the attorney:

1.  Law enforcement report;
2.  Name and address of dog owner;
3.  Name of dog if known;
4.  Photographs of your injuries, if applicable;
5.  Policy information for any health insurance plan, whether private or governmental, under which you are insured.

What will hiring an attorney do for me?

A: An experienced personal injury attorney can do many things that will dramatically affect the success and value of your case. First, a personal injury attorney experienced in a dog attack claim will know how to immediately investigate the attack so as to preserve information that can be critical in proving who owned or harbored the dog, eliminating defenses such as that the dog was provoked, and establishing whether the dog has attacked before. While it may seem obvious and it may even be that admissions regarding fault were made at the time of the attack stories frequently change, often dramatically, once a claim is made. That is why it can be critical to investigate and secure evidence immediately.

In addition, an experienced personal injury attorney will understand how to document all of your losses and how to present them on your behalf. One of the major roles of an attorney is to determine all theories of liability and sources of recovery that might be available to you. There are also things that need to be done in a procedurally proper manner to avoid jeopardizing additional rights that you may have.

Finally, insurance companies know which attorneys will actually take cases to trial and which attorneys will cave in and take smaller settlements in order to avoid having to go to trial. This fact alone can be significant in what the insurance company is willing to pay you in settlement to avoid going to trial.

Who is responsible when a dog attack causes injury?

A: Minnesota’s absolute liability statute holds both the owner of the dog and anybody “harboring” a dog legally responsible for the harm caused by the dog.  This would include somebody caring for the dog for the owner or anybody who has accepted possession of the dog for whatever purpose.  The law does provide that the owner is still primarily responsible to anybody injured by the dog but the person harboring the dog can also be held responsible.

Who pays the medical bills?

A: Dog bite claims are covered under the Bodily Injury liability coverage of the Homeowners Insurance policy of the person who owns or was harboring the dog. Your medical bills would be one of the elements of damages covered under the Bodily Injury liability coverage. Insurance carriers do not, however, pay claims piecemeal. That is, they typically will not pay your medical expenses as you incur them but rather will offer you a lump sum settlement at some point in the future, which is intended to cover all of your damages. Most Homeowners Insurance policies, however, also have a Medical Payment provision that will cover medical expenses, up to the coverage limit, for injuries suffered on the homeowner’s premises regardless of whether the homeowner was at fault in causing the underlying injuries. Unfortunately, the Medical Payment coverage limit on most policies is $1000. Additional medical expense claims, therefore, would have to be included at the time an attempt is made to settle the Bodily Injury claim.