Negotiating With the Owner or Insurance Company

Most dog bite disputes never get to court; they're settled by negotiations between the injured person and the dog owner or insurance company. You don't want to get embroiled in a lawsuit if you can help it; the time and expense are mind-boggling. In many large cities, lawsuits routinely take two years or more to get to trial. And most attorneys charge $150 to $250 an hour or, if they work on a "contingency fee" basis, keep one-third or more of what you finally collect from a lawsuit.

If you've been injured by a dog, contact the dog's owner. Write a letter setting out what happened - even though the owner may know the facts as well as you do. Include an itemized list of your expenses, and mention any local or state dog-bite laws. Give a deadline for payment - that's a good incentive for the owner. And stress that if you don't work something out by then, you'll file a small claims (or other) court case. It's also a good idea to mention that homeowner's insurance may cover the cost; many dog owners may not realize that. A sample letter is shown below, in the section on a sample small claims case.

If you do work out an agreement, put it in writing. The agreement you sign is called a release, because the injured person releases the dog owner from all legal claims arising out of the incident. A sample release is included in the section on small claims court, below.

How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim, by Joseph Matthews (Nolo), explains how to negotiate successfully with an insurance company.

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