Lawmakers Need to Show Their Teeth

Only 16,000 of the 5 million annual dog bite victims in the USA receive compensation in any one year. One of the reasons is uninsured dog owners. Homeowners insurance and renters insurance normally provide coverage for dog bites. The wrong insurance or no insurance on the part of the dog owner means that the dog bite victim will have a tough time when he tries to obtain fair compensation.

One reason is that an injured person normally can’t afford the cost of collecting the evidence and obtaining the legal services necessary to make the claim, but won’t be able to retain a lawyer to advance the costs and perform the required legal services. The American legal system allows attorneys to work on a contingency fee basis, meaning that no fees are charged unless and until money comes in as a result of the claim. If there is no insurance, however, an attorney usually will decline to get involved because it will be difficult or impossible to collect enough to pay the medical bills, reimburse the health insurance, pay for the legal services and costs, and satisfy the victim. I hasten to add that ONLY an attorney can make the decision as to whether there is insurance coverage in any particular case. Just because the dog owners doesn’t have coverage doesn’t mean the case cannot be won. This year I obtained a $1 million settlement for a client who was bitten by dogs which belonged to homeless and unemployed dog owners. I discovered grounds to sue a third party which had sufficient insurance coverage. The case was in Louisiana and my co-counsel was Neale deGravelles, one of the best lawyers I have worked with in the USA. 

But that kind of success is the exception, not the rule. Therefore it is essential to promote the enactment of laws that require dog owners to be insured. Otherwise the burden of the dog bite has to be borne by the victim and his own health insurance company or the taxpayers. Totally unfair.

Unless lawmakers show their teeth on this issue, there will be no change and no justice. It’s certainly not the attorneys who are to blame. It is not that we cannot do anything to the dog owner; the question is whether we can achieve anything by going through the time, expense and expenditure of energy of a lawsuit. The civil justice system does not exist for the purpose of making statements, but generally for the purpose of transferring money in order to correct wrongdoing. When it is not possible to do what the system provides, then it makes no sense to proceed.

The reality of this situation is that lawmakers around the USA essentially have decided that the burden of the dog bite should fall on the victim whenever the dog owner lacks insurance or the means to pay proper compensation. The only way to change it is through political action — by changing the laws. The judicial branch cannot change this kind of thing; change must come from the legislative branch. Lawyers who are not politicians can do wonders through the judicial branch, but not if the matter requires legislative action.

Anyone who is concerned with this issue needs to contact their state representatives and suggest that a law be passed which would require dog owners to have a sufficient amount of liability insurance.