Will My Dog Bite Case Go to Court?

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View of Courthouse StepsEvery case is different, so it is impossible to tell you whether your dog bite claim will settle or go to court. Here are the typical possibilities:

  • Your lawyer contacts the dog owner, negotiates with the insurance company, and settles the case without having to file a lawsuit.
  • The dog owner does not have insurance that will pay your injury claim, so your lawyer has to file a lawsuit against the owner.
  • The dog owner has insurance, but the company refuses to pay a fair settlement of your claim, so your lawyer has to file a lawsuit.
  • The case settles after your lawyer files a lawsuit but before trial.
  • Your lawyer files a lawsuit and the defendant and his insurance company does not settle with you, so the case goes to trial, where the judge decides your fate.

Litigation is unpredictable. Even after your lawyer files a lawsuit, it might appear that the case is going in one direction, when it suddenly changes course. For example, the insurance company might play hardball for months and then, out of the blue, make a reasonable settlement offer.

Sometimes the insurance company’s lawyer will act cooperatively at first, and then stop returning phone calls from your lawyer. It is hard to anticipate what will happen in court cases.

Factors That Can Affect Whether Your Case Will Settle or Go to Court

The relevant issues in your case will depend on the facts of your case, but here are some aspects that can affect whether your case settles or goes to trial:

Whether the dog owner is liable. Under Washington State law, a dog owner is responsible whenever the owner’s dog bites or otherwise injures someone unless the injured person was trespassing at the time of the incident or the injury happened as a result of the lawful use of a police dog.

If the dog owner claims that the situation falls within one of these exceptions, the case is unlikely to settle without more investigation. Both sides, the plaintiff (you) and the defendant dog owner, will gather evidence to support their positions. If the parties cannot agree at that point, the case might have to go to trial for a judge to make a ruling as to what happened.

Your injuries. Your doctor might recommend that we wait to see how well you heal up before agreeing on a settlement amount for your injuries. Because of infection risk and complications, injuries from a dog can take a long while to heal.

We do not want to rush to a settlement, only to discover that you still need more medical procedures to treat your injuries. Once you settle, you cannot go back to the defendant and ask for more money, even if you have more medical bills.

Often people need multiple surgeries after a dog bite. The initial procedures try to repair the damage to tissues and organs. After addressing the medical crisis, you might need reconstructive surgery, particularly if the dog mauled your face. You might also need one or more plastic surgeries to minimize your scarring.

Psychological ramifications. Many people find that being the victim of a dog attack is traumatizing. They can develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the experience. PTSD does not always appear immediately after the attack, but when it does, it can be debilitating. Rushing to a quick settlement might not allow sufficient time for the psychological harm you could suffer to appear.

Insurance company actions. If the defendant dog owner has insurance that will cover your dog bite claim, the insurance company will probably pay for a defense lawyer to handle the lawsuit for them. The exception to this protocol is if the insurance company adjuster settles your claim before your lawyer files a lawsuit.

Once we file the lawsuit, the insurance company transfers the case to one of their lawyers. Transferring the case around like that will delay resolution of the dispute until the company’s lawyer becomes familiar with the file.

The insurance company will tell the adjuster and defense lawyer the maximum amount of money for which they can settle the case. This number is the “settlement authority.”

The adjuster and lawyer do not have authority to settle the case for more than that amount. If the amount of compensation you need to make you whole (or to come as close to it as a fair dollar figure would) is more than the settlement authority from the insurance company, the case will have to go to trial.

Unresolved factual disputes. The defendant might make some wild claims in an attempt to get out of liability for your injuries. He might deny that he owns the dog, or claim that you were trespassing. He might declare that some other dog caused your injuries, or that your medical bills were for a different accident.

In situations like this or when there is any other critical factual dispute that the parties cannot work out between their lawyers, the case will likely have to go to court. In trial, the judge can decide what the truth is and what is not.

If you have injuries from a dog, call Max Meyers Law, PLLC at 425-399-7000, to set up your free consultation. We can answer your questions and fight for your right to compensation.

Max Meyers
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Max is a Kirkland personal injury attorney handling cases in Seattle, King County & surrounding in WA State.