While lawyers and judges are the ultimate legal experts, of course, I believe that every citizen should take the time to learn a little about law for several reasons. First, it is important to know your rights, and knowing them can come in handy if anyone ever accuses you of a crime you didn't commit or threatens you legally in another other way. Second, learning about your local, state, and federal laws can help you act as a better citizen. When election time comes around, you can then truly understand ever change in law being proposed by a candidate and whether it benefits society or not. I plan to share posts about law topics explained in plain English on my new blog, so you can come back often to sharpen your legal knowledge!
A dog bite can be a traumatic event and can cost a lot in medical bills and lost wages. On top of that, you may be left with an ugly scar. It's only natural that you would want to seek compensation for your troubles from the owner of the dog or the person who was responsible for it at the time that it bit you. However, a dog bite lawsuit can present some unique challenges that you may not see in other cases. If you've been bitten by a dog and are considering the pros and cons of a lawsuit, take a look at the challenges that you may face along the way.
It's an unfortunate fact of life that not every defendant in a lawsuit will pay damages, even if they're ordered to. A defendant is considered judgement-proof if he or she has no assets to speak of and no insurance to cover the costs of the damage that their dog caused. Normally, a dog bite judgement would be paid by the dog owner's homeowner's or renter's insurance. Failing that, you could go after property owned by the defendant or the money in their bank account. But if a defendant has none of those things, they're judgment-proof.
In some cases, defendants can even hide assets in trusts that are difficult for courts and lawyer to penetrate. This is what happened to a family in Moreau, New York, who won a $107,000 settlement but were unable to collect because the dog's owner's assets were tied up in a trust.
Winning a judgement against a defendant who can avoid paying can actually end up costing you money. At the end of the trial, somebody needs to pay the court costs and the lawyers, and if there's no cash coming from anywhere else, it will be your responsibility. It's a good idea to find out before proceeding with a lawsuit whether or not you're likely to collect if you win.
Unwillingness to Settle
Dog owners may be less willing to settle cases than other defendants, simply because of their attachment to their pet. Settling a dog bite lawsuit is tantamount to admitting their dog is dangerous, which is something that the dog's owner may be unwilling to do.
As a result, negotiations can be difficult. The dog's owner may try to blame the bite on you, maintaining that your actions somehow provoked the dog into biting you. While a car accident defendant may be willing to settle simply to get it over with and move on, pet owners are much more willing to fight to defend their pets. That means that you're more likely to have to go all the way to trial before you see any money.
If you do go to trial, you may find that the jury is surprisingly sympathetic to the defendant. Many people own pets that are important to them, and jury members who are animal lovers may tend to sympathize with a fellow pet owner, especially if he or she appears to be a concerned and caring pet owner.
You and your lawyer will have to counter this by providing indisputable evidence and by generating sympathy for your own situation. Expert witnesses can prove useful for this – an animal behaviorist can testify to the dog's temperament, and a the dog's veterinarian may be able to reveal whether the dog has had a history of aggressive behavior. A psychologist or psychiatrist can testify to the lasting psychological trauma of a dog bite, which can be quite severe. However, keep in mind that all of this expert testimony will drive up your legal costs, which means that you'll owe more to your lawyers if you win.
None of these hurdles should necessarily prevent you from pursuing a dog bite case. A good lawyer may be able to find a way to find hidden assets or pressure the defense into a reasonable settlement offer, and a good trial lawyer can certainly create sympathy for a dog bite victim in court. But the more prepared you are for the hurdles that you'll face in a dog bite case, the better you'll be able to assist in your legal strategy and make informed decisions about your case.
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