What to do if my daughter is being sued because her dog and a neighbor’s dog got into a confrontation and the owner of the other dog got injured?

My daughter is a single mother of 3 sons (she does not get the child support she is entitled to). She rents so she does not have homeowner’s insurance but she does have insurance on her personal property. She has no savings and her car is over 12 years old. If she loses the case, she can’t possibly pay anything. She makes less than $25,000 per year. What will happen in this case?

Asked on July 27, 2014 under Personal Injury, Ohio

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

Legally, your daughter should not be liable, or financially responsible, unless she was negligent, or careless, in some way--such as if she did not properly secure her dog, and that's why it got into the confrontation.

Even if she were negligent, if the neighbor were also negligent--whether by not securing her dog, or by reaching into the middle of a dog fight (which is careless)--that negligence will reduce what she can recover.

And the neighbor can only recover an amount equivalent to her medical bills, other out-of-pocket losses or costs (e.g. lost wages, if she misses work) and pain and suffering for *serious* injuries, involving more some number of weeks or months of disability or impairment.

Overall then, depending on the exact facts and your neighbor's injuries, this may be a weak case, worth little or nothing; or if the neighbor was badly hurt and your daughter was careless, she could be liable for a signficant amount.

For relatively small amounts (a few hundred dollars up to the limit for your small claims court), your daughter can either try to settle the case (negotiate a payment she can pay and feels ok about) or defend herself in court pro se (as her own attorney).

For larger amounts however, your daughter should retain attorney to help her--yes, the lawyer  will cost money, but the cost of not having an attorney can be much higher.

If she ultimately loses and has to pay a large amount, bankruptcy is an option, especially if she has other bills or debts she has been having trouble paying; bankruptcy would apply to a debt from a court judgment like this.


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