hand writingThe full interview of a dog bite victim (or his parents if he is a minor) must cover the following areas:

Goals. The interviewer must find out what the victim wants to achieve. There are many different goals that might be appropriate in a dog bite case (see Determining goals). If the victim’s goals are inappropriate or unachievable, the lawyer should explain why and decline the case.

Facts. If the interviewer feels that he or his firm is capable of assisting the victim, questioning must focus on the facts that will enable the lawyer to analyze a variety of potential claims and defenses, and assist the firm to gather the necessary evidence, through witnesses, documents and tangible evidence. (See Learning the facts.) An efficient and thorough method of conducting this questioning is by submitting forms to the victim which he can fill in, and a checklist of evidence for him to provide.

Representation. Next, the interviewer must discuss the financial terms upon which the firm will agree to represent the victim and possibly other family members who have claims, and any conditions upon that representation (i.e., that the potential defendants have insurance or available assets to pay the claim). A written attorney retainer agreement is mandatory in many states and the best practice in all, even where the victim is a minor and the court sets the fee. Other paperwork also must be signed by the client, such as an authorization to obtain health information, a designation of attorney form (only in California), and an authorization to obtain income records when loss of earnings will be an issue.

Advice. The attorney must give the usual advice that the client must not speak to any insurance representatives other than to convey to them the contact information of the attorney and the fact that the client is represented, must not allow an investigator to photograph the victim, must report to the lawyer all new information and the contact information about new doctors, and anything else that is appropriate for the case.

Case plan. Finally, both parties should agree on what each of them will do next to move the claim forward. The attorney also should provide a rough idea as to how long the claim will take to resolve. In general, a dog bite claim cannot be settled until the wounds turn into scars of sufficient maturity that a plastic surgeon can credibly write a medical-legal report, giving the prognosis and the costs of improvement. According to the guidelines of the boards of plastic surgery, this usually takes about one year after the injury. Once the report is in hand, a case can be settled in a couple of months unless there are liability issues, inadequate or no insurance, or problems taking the claim to court in the unlikely event that a court filing is necessary.