An adult who is injured by a dog needs a lawyer who will work on a contingency basis, advance all necessary costs, and obtain 3 to 5 times more than the victim could get on his own. On this page you will find:
- Answers to the most common concerns
- Specific reasons why a dog bite victim should never attempt to be a "dog bite prosecutor"
- The many advantages of professional legal help, at no up-front cost
There are many good reasons to hire a lawyer to handle a dog bite claim.
One of the best reasons is that less than 1% of dog bite victims get compensated. Dogs bite at least 4.7 million Americans per year, but insurance companies pay only 15,000 to 16,000 victims. See InsuranceQuotes.com, "Despite home insurance coverage, many dog bites go unreported and uncompensated," (February 2012). So without a lawyer, a victim has very little chance of getting justice.
An insurance adjuster will offer a victim 10% to 20% of what he would offer if the victim had an attorney. The insurer itself will end up keeping the other 80% to 90%. Since a lawyer works on a contingency basis and takes only 33%, a victim who has an attorney therefore will receive 66% -- far more than the 10% to 20% that he could get for himself.
"Contingency basis" means that the attorney will not ask the victim to pay for anything. Getting paid will be contingent on recovering money for the victim. If nothing is recovered, the victim will owe nothing. He will not have to pay the attorney a fee, and will not have to repay the attorney for his costs.
A person who attempts to pursue a dog bite claim places himself or herself in the position of the prosecutor. That arouses resentment unnecessarily. This is exacerbated by the fact that the victim himself doesn't know the right things to say in order to get the claim settled efficiently. All too often, a victim will make accusations that are unnecessary under the law. With an attorney, however, a victim always can comment, "it was the attorney who said that, not me." Criticism can be deflected easily. Having a lawyer handle this legal matter is therefore more efficient and less stressful, in addition to posing no financial risk.
A lawyer for an injured person does not confront the dog owners, make them feel guilty, put them in a bad light, harass them, write threatening letters to them, embarrass them, foreclose on their home, drive them into bankruptcy, or have their dogs euthanized. At least, not unless one or more of those things is absolutely necessary, and never without the permission of the client himself. If the client wants his lawyer to behave in a gentle manner, then the case will be handled as the client instructs.
When the claim has been paid, the dog owners will realize that it was their insurance company that did all the work and paid all the money. Any of their initial anger will be gone. They will agree that the injured person hired an attorney only to arrive at a mutually fair conclusion -- not for the purpose of hurting anyone.
Getting a lawyer is not the same thing as suing. A good attorney knows how to present a case to an insurance company so that the claim gets resolved without it going to court.
At least 98% of bodily injury cases settle out of court, without a trial. Therefore a person who retains an attorney is not making matters worse, but actually is probably ensuring that the claim will be handled more quickly and efficiently.
An attorney is the only person who can evaluate a claim on behalf of a victim. People do not publish photos of their injuries accompanied with the dollar amounts of their settlements. Therefore an injured person will not be able to find a free and reliable source of information as to how much money he deserves. Attorneys without experience have a rough time settling cases; victims who are not lawyers must simply guess.
Adults frequently lose time from work when they recover from an accident. A claim for lost income requires proof from the victim's employer. It is better for a lawyer to get it because it must contain not only the basic information about the number of hours or days lost, but also some important evidence on related points such as causation, fringe benefits, and work reviews.
A victim who is disfigured may have a very, very substantial claim for loss of future earning capacity, based on sociological and psychological research. Proving an earning capacity loss is considered to be a specialize topic even among lawyers, and is completely beyond the ability of an accident victim. Since this can be the largest portion of the loss over the years, it is essential that an experienced attorney handle this for the victim.
A lawyer uses his own money to get official, reliable copies of medical evidence and billings, engage a photographer to take photos of the victim, hire a private investigator to learn the history of the attacking dog, and retain a nurse consultant to review and summarize all of the medical evidence. This usually costs between $1000 and $2000 for every claim. Clients are not asked to pay for any of these expenditures until money is received on the claim (except in several states that do not allow lawyers to do this on a contingency basis). There is no reason for injured people to use their own money for this purpose, especially because they frequently have already lost time from work because of the accident.
If the victim's medical bills are paid by health insurance or public assistance, there will be third party claims against the settlement. If those claims go directly to the insurance company for the dog owner, it will pay the victim's money to those third parties, no questions asked. Lawyers who represent accident victims, however, render an additional service to their clients by negotiating with the third parties. Furthermore, there are laws that say that insurance companies and government agencies are not allowed to collect from injured people under certain circumstances. Injured people do not know how to deal with these third party claims; experienced attorneys do.
Retaining a lawyer early in the process enables the insurance company to make a better estimate of the amount of compensation that the victim must receive. Experienced attorneys can offer guides and key evidence to the insurance adjuster; the victims themselves do not know what information to give, or even where to locate it. If a proper evaluation is done soon after the accident, the claim is that much easier to settle. An inexperienced person runs the clear risk of passing along the wrong information and insufficient evidence, thus making the process longer, error-prone and more difficult.