Do we have to file a lawsuit?

Normally, a lawsuit based on a dog bite claim is unnecessary. The most common reason is that most states have a dog bite statute that makes dog owners strictly liable for the payment of compensation to dog bite victims. (To read about liability in general, see Legal Rights of Dog Bite Victims in the USA; to find out whether your state has a dog bite statute, return to our home page and click on the name of your state in the drop-down menu.)

Even if you were bitten in a “one bite state,” it usually is unnecessary to file a lawsuit if you retain an attorney who has significant experience handling dog bite cases. That lawyer knows what evidence is required, how to obtain it, and how to present it to the dog owner’s homeowners insurance company or renters insurance company. Just as important, he knows how much his other clients have received under similar circumstances. The more cases he has handled, the more accurate his information. There is no need for a lawsuit when the insurance company and the victim’s attorney have similar views about the dog bite claim. The client is the winner because he receives proper compensation and saves money and time.

Lawsuits are for disputes that cannot be resolved between the parties. The lawsuit puts the dispute in front of one stranger at first (i.e., the judge) and ultimately 12 other strangers (i.e., the jury). The case is decided by strangers when the parties fail to resolve it on their own. If enough money is in dispute, it can be very much worth it. If the insurance company is being unfair to the dog bite victim or the latter takes an unrealistic position, it also is worth it. A lawsuit enables the parties to gather evidence, take depositions, and then hopefully resolve their different assessments of the case. If they can do that, they then can settle the matter without going to court.

Often settlement is accomplished with the help of a mediator. There are attorneys who serve as mediators rather than represent clients; when judges retire, many become professional mediators because of their vast experience. When the parties have pinned down the most important evidence and testimony, they often agree to select a mediator whose job it will be to help settle the case. Mediations often result in settlement; even if the settlement represents more of a compromise in the parties initially believed they could tolerate, mediation often becomes that “happy ending” because it is quicker, less costly, less emotional, and far more convenient than going to trial.

Only 1% of dog bite cases actually go to trial. That does not mean, however, that the litigation process is unnecessary. The threat of going to trial requires the parties to be realistic. The ability to subpoena witnesses and evidence enables the parties to get to the truth. Unwarranted claims and defenses can be eliminated by the judge long before the day of trial. New theories of recovery can be tested. And unfair positions by any party can be squelched before causing too much trouble, wasted effort, and hurt feelings.