The dog bite victim is entitled to recover fair and adequate compensation for his losses and damages. The losses and damages may include a wide variety of harms suffered by the victim. The two main categories of harm are economic damages and non-economic damages.
- Economic damages include medical costs, expenses of transportation for medical reasons (i.e., ambulance, airlift, miles driven to the doctor), future medical costs for operations or the cosmetic treatment of scars, loss of income in the past, loss of income or opportunity in the future, defensive measures such as putting up a fence, loss of the value of a home because of the proximity of dangerous dogs, past counseling expenses, future psychological costs, funds expended on a vacation that could not be taken because of the accident, and torn clothing. This long list is not exclusive.
- Non-economic damages include the pain of the injury and the treatment, mental suffering when confronted by dogs or when remembering the attack, humiliation caused by scars, loss of quality of life because of disability, and many other things.
Statutory penalties and punitive damages
In addition to an award of compensatory damages for economic and non-economic losses, a dog bite victim sometimes can recover statutory penalties or punitive damages. For example, Wisconsin makes a dog owner liable for double damages if he had reason to know that the attacking dog previously injured a person, domestic animal or property. (See Wisconsin Dog Bite Law.)
Also, court decisions in many states have subjected dog owners to punitive damages for harboring vicious dogs. Such damages are intended to punish and make an example of the wrongdoer. (For example, see Beckett v. Warren (2008) 124 Ohio St.3d 256.
Limits on the amount of compensation
There are states where a dog bite victim cannot, however, recover his full measure of damages. For example, if the defendant is a governmental entity, the victim’s recovery may be arbitrarily limited to $250,000.00. Also, in a state that embraces “tort reform,” the recovery also may be limited to $250,000.00. (See, i.e., the limitations discussed in Colorado Jury Instruction 6:1.)
How to predict the amount of compensation
The amount of money an injured person receives depends on the nature and extent of their injuries, the amount of their medical costs in the past and future, how well or poorly a jury would react to them, how much a jury would hate the defendant, the legal basis for liability, the temperament of the dog and its history of aggressiveness, how frightening or offensive the facts of the incident were, whether the liable party had insurance coverage, the policy limits of the insurance, the predisposition of the jury to award damages, predisposition of the trial judge toward personal injury claims, and the skills of the injured person’s lawyer.
Because of the complexity of determining case value, a highly experienced, private attorney must be retained by any victim whose injuries are significant. The victim’s lawyer will focus on negotiating a pretrial settlement because everything involving the judge and jury is unknowable until late in the litigation process, which creates risks for both the injured person and the defendants. Lawyers for both sides attempt to settle in order to eliminate those risks.
Additional information about this subject is provided in Does an Adult Need a Lawyer for a Dog Bite Claim? and Should Parents Get a Lawyer for Their Injured Child?
Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips’ advice about settlement money
In answer to a question asked during a chat at dogbitelaw.com, Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips said he advises his clients basically as follows:
If the injured person is a child, I tell the parents the net settlement should be divided into two amounts, one equaling which the child might need for treatment up to age 18, the other being the remainder. The treatment money is then to go into a “blocked” bank account, and the remainder is used to purchase an annuity that will fund the payments of a tax-free “structured settlement. If the injured person is catastrophically injured, I advise the creation of a special needs trust so that the net settlement money will not reduce any government benefits otherwise available for the victim. Any advice that I give is tailored to the client’s special circumstances. For example, I have advised a young mother to go ahead and purchase that house in Alabama. The worst advice I ever gave to a client was back in November 1980. I gave my client a check for $150,000 and, since he was just 18 years of age, I advised him to buy a new car and to NOT purchase any stocks or bonds, but to open a savings account with the remainder of the funds. The young man did not listen to me. He bought stock. In Apple. He became a multi-multi-millionaire. Both of us are glad he didn’t listen to me!