Can my father-in-law share legal liability for our dog biting a person, if he let the dog out against our orders while we were not home?

My father-in-law was living with us. While we were at work, my father-in-law let our pitbull out in the back yard, disregarding orders not to do so. We had recently discovered our dog could jump out our 4 feet fence. Our dog jumped out the fence and bit a woman passing by. Previous to this, our dog had no history of aggression. The victim had to get stitches on her arm. No surgery or physical therapy was necessary and her wound has since healed. Her hospital bill, which we offered to pay – even though her insurance covered most of it – amounted to $2500. Their lawyer is asking 10K. We rent and have no insurance.

Asked on October 29, 2014 under Personal Injury, Georgia

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

1) Yes, your father-in-law may be liable, too, and if the plaintiff (injured person) doesn't sue him as well as you, *you* could sue him to force him to contribute to any amounts you have to pay. He would be liable because he was, based on what you write, negligent, or unreasonably careless, in letting you dog out despite instructions to not do so.

2) An injured person can't simply get any amount of money they want. Typically, someone injured by another's negligence can get the sum of--

i) Out of pocket (that is, NOT paid by health insurance) medical bills (though the insurer may be able to sue to recover the amount it was forced to pay out);

ii) lost wages, if any, and diminished future earning potential, if any;

iii) other direct, out of pocket costs, such as if she had to hire an aide to help out while recovering, or take car services/taxis for a little while because she couldn't drive for a time;

iv) "pain and suffering" IF the injury caused significant life impairment, disability, or disfigurement which lasted for weeks or longer--the amount of pain and suffering you could typically get for just having to get stitches, without any real impairment or disability or disfigurement (beyond maybe a small, non-facial scar) is very small.

Therefore, you could offer to settle for a much smaller amount; if she won't take it, she could sue you; but to win, she'd have to be able to prove that her injuries, costs, losses, etc. support $10,000 or more.


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