What to do when someone sends their lawyer after you

Your dog bit a lady. You looked up your state law and realized you are legally liable. Today you received a letter from an attorney asking for your insurance information. Do you give it to him? Do you worry? Will you lose everything? What will happen?

Start with the obvious: she is in the right (the legal right) and you are in the wrong (legally wrong, legally liable). 

Believe it or not, your moral and legal liability is nothing to worry about if you already have purchased homeowners insurance, renters insurance, canine liability insurance, or if you have a business and bought commercial liability insurance. (If you didn’t get insurance that would cover what you dog might do, then you should not have gotten the dog, either.)

So, open your file drawer and pull out the folder that says “Insurance.” That’s right, you’ve paid in advance for this exact eventuality. Your insurance company has been gleefully taking your money for years, laughing all the way to the bank because you never asked them to do anything for you. You just kept paying and paying and paying

Well, today that’s going to change. You’re going to contact each company that you have homeowners insurance or commercial liability insurance with, and you’re going to tell them (not ask them) to “defend and indemnify” you from this lady’s RIGHTEOUS claim. In other words, you’re turning the whole mess over to them. 

It’s going to be their headache, not yours. You know why? Because you’ve been paying them to do this. They’re working for you!

Now, after you turn it over, they’re going to ask you questions and you’re going to answer them honestly. You’re not going to make up anything. You don’t have to. Nothing is going to happen to your dog. You didn’t give them the right to take your dog away when you bought their insurance. You didn’t give them the power to tell you to muzzle your dog or keep it inside 20 hours per day. Nothing of the sort. So you don’t have to twist the truth to protect your dog. 

Your goal is to get the lady paid. That’s right, get her paid, make her whole again, make her happy. Why? Well, because she’s legally right and you’re legally liable. She’s morally right, and you should be too, and you WILL be after she’s paid. It’s only fair to compensate her for what she’s been through. Not just pay her medical bills, but pay for her time, her anxiety, her hours and days of pain, the things she can’t do because of that bite, the embarrassment she is going to feel when putting on clothes that reveal the bite, the questions that strangers are going to ask her when they see her scar, the pain when she’s doing something and the scar gets bumped, the time she has to take off work to go to the doctor, the fear she will experience when she sees a stray dog on the street. That’s what the dog bite caused or may have caused, and if it did, she legally and morally deserves compensation, and your insurance company is legally liable to pay it to her.

If you make up anything for the sake of justifying what your dog did, you’ll make a mess of this. To begin with, you will have told a lie, and that’s immoral. The insurance company (which wants to keep all the premiums and not pay any victims a dime, ever) will take your little lie and hold it up like a big stop sign, they’ll run with it, they’ll repeat it every time the lady and her lawyer ask for a bill to be paid. This will trigger them to file a lawsuit. The rules of lawsuits dictate that YOU are the one whose name will be on it as the “defendant.” You’ll have to start answering written questions that include things like whether you committed felonies, where you went to high school, what kind of driver’s license you have, who you live with, and a lot of other things. See, the lady’s lawyer is going to try to prove that you’re a bad person because they will know you lied. There will be court proceedings that maybe you won’t have to attend, but maybe you will. The opposing lawyer will take your deposition, which is when you will go to his office and have to answer a lot of questions for a half a day with a court reporter taking down your answers. You’ll get grilled about that lie, and it will become clear that it WAS a lie. It will be clear to the lady’s lawyer, the lady herself (she will be sitting across the table from you, watching you), and to the insurance company lawyer who was assigned to defend you.

When the insurance company lawyer gets back to his office, he will write a report saying that it seemed clear you are a liar. The lady’s lawyer will write another letter to the insurance company lawyer, saying you are a liar, and that letter will be filed with the insurance company’s lawyer’s letter. At this point, the insurance company won’t be happy with you because they will feel you misled them. They will feel that you made them hire a lawyer to defend you when you didn’t deserve it, because you were legally wrong from the very beginning. They won’t be quite so much on your side for the rest of the lawsuit or afterwards, when it comes time to set the rate for your insurance policy, if they even want to insure you again.

On the other hand, if you tell the truth, either the truth will mean the insurance company will pay the lady and it will all be over, or the truth will mean that the lady won’t be paid or will be paid less because of something that she herself did to cause the accident to happen. You can be fairly sure, by the way, that she will have already told her lawyer about the thing that she did that caused the accident, so they will be expecting to receive less money than most people, and they will accept it when it is offered. That’s one of the beauties of the American system of paying lawyers based on whether one wins or loses one’s cases: we don’t push cases where the “victims” aren’t really the victims, and we don’t ask for more money than is deserved because we, the attorneys, are the ones who get stuck fighting that battle in court and, frankly, we don’t want to waste our time.

So stop worrying. Ask your insurance company to defend and indemnify you for this accident, and tell the truth. You can be confident that everything will turn out for you the way it should, and that the lady will get neither more nor less than she deserves — which will be the right thing, legally and morally.

Here’s what you DON’T DO. Don’t talk to the lady’s lawyer about what happened, except to tell him whether you were working for someone at the time (because he needs to contact that person too). Just give him the insurance information and simultaneously tell your insurance company about the claim, asking them to defend and indemnify you.