What to do about our financial responsibility in a dog bite case?

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What to do about our financial responsibility in a dog bite case?

September of last year my dog left our property and ran at a neighbor. We didn’t see anything, we just heard her scream. I ran to the edge of my yard and yelled for him to sit, which he did. I went down to check on her at which time she said that he bit her. I never saw the injury as we emotionally stormed off. Approximately 1 month later, we received a copy of her medical bills but there was no request for payment. We didn’t do anything at that time and we eventually received a certified letter from a law firm requesting our homeowners information. I contacted the law office and let them know that we wished to avoid using our insurance and that we wanted to resolve this on our own. I personally tried to contact the law office, however it usually took 3 calls each time to talk to anyone. After about another 2 months we received another letter requesting $2,500 to settle the case. The original medical bills were $250. Now the neighbor was saying that she had dealt with stress and trauma from the bite and peace of mind to walk in the neighborhood. We actually have video evidence that she has continued to walk in our neighborhood. I spoke again with law office and negotiated the settlement down to $750. However, now it has been another month and we haven’t heard anything else from law office. We are beyond frustrated and I would honestly rather pay a lawyer $1,000, than give this lady 1 dollar. My wife and I are both school teachers and we can’t afford the risk of an extended legal battle that might wind up costing us thousands. Is there anything we would benefit from knowing for a case like this? Is the any kind of time limit that the law office has before any negotiations or settlements are nullified?

Asked on June 21, 2016 under Personal Injury, Georgia

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

If there was an executed or signed settlement agreement with them for $750, you can enforce it; but if the negotiations never reached the stage of being agreed to by all parties, then the $750 is nothing more than a talking point.
There is most likely no way she could recover for her "stress and trauma" from the bite: that sort of compensation for emotional distress typically arises from intentional bad behavior (or at least grossly, or excessively, negligent, not ordinarily careless, behavior), or a repeated pattern of wrongful acts (like harassment or stalking), or at the least, some effort to inflict emotional harm. While it's impossible to say 100% that she could not get compensation for it--courts sometimes do odd things--most often, she would only be able to collect for her actual provable medical costs and, if she can show there was some significant and long lasting (typically, months, years, or forever) life impairment, disability, or disfigurement, some amount for "pain and suffering." She also most often cannot collect legal fees in cases like this absent some extraordinarily wrongful behavior by you.
You therefore, based on what you write, appear to be in good shape to resist her demands and go to trial, if you wanted, since in a trial, she could most likely only get a few hundred dollars (the medical costs), even if she can prove your dog bit her. Or you'd be in good shape to use that refusal as leverage to negotiate a settlement, or get them to accept the $750 offer--which may be emotionally upsetting to do, but may be the most practical answer, since even if you win a lawsuit, fighting a lawsuit will cause you stress and take you away from work.
You could therefore send the law firm a letter, sent some way or ways you can prove delivery, stating that if the $750 offer is not accepted withing 10 business days, you will withdraw it and take your chances in court, in order to put pressure on them, if you do want or are willing to resovle the matter and move on at the $750 level.


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