What to do if our dog was attacked in our yard by the neighbor’s dog?

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What to do if our dog was attacked in our yard by the neighbor’s dog?

Fortunately another neighbor saw the attack and scared the other dog off. I am wondering if it would be best to sue in small claims court or hire a lawyer to recoup the cost of the vet bill?

Asked on May 5, 2013 under Bankruptcy Law, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

How much money is at stake? With a pet, you can only recover the actual out of pocket costs, such as the vet bill--not "pain and suffering" or anything like that. While lawyers vary in what they charge, $150/hour and up is not uncommon. Assume that even a simple lawsuit will take an attorney at least 4 hours between filing and a minimal amount of court time, and could easly take 6 - 8 (or more). If it takes 4 hours and you find an attorney who will do it for $150, that's $600; if it takes 8 hours and the lawyer costs $250/hour, you'r talking $2,000. If you take the average, $1,300, that means that the first $1,300 of what you win--IF you win (no lawsuit is ever a given; it's always possible to lose) goes just to pay the attorney. If the vet bills are *substantially* more than $1,300, it's worth hiring a lawyer to maximize your chance of winning; for around $2,500 or less, it's probably better to represent yourself ini small claims court.

S.L,. Member, California Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

You can sue your neighbor for negligence.  Negligence is the failure to exercise due care (that degree of care that a reasonable dog owner would have exercised under the same or similar circumstances to prevent foreseeable harm).  If this is the first incident of the dog biting/attacking, negligence would be your only cause of action (claim) in your lawsuit.

If the dog has a history of biting/attacking, then in addition to negligence, you would have an additional, separate cause of action (claim) in your lawsuit for strict liability.  Strict liability is liability whether or not due care was exercised.

Depending on the amount of the vet bill, you may be able to file your lawsuit in Small Claims Court.  Your damages (the amount of compensation you are seeking in your lawsuit) would be the amount of the vet bill plus court costs.  Court costs would include the court filing fee and process server fee.


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