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dog bite demand for payment

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#1
What is the name of your state (only U.S. law)? MA

My dog bit a child in the parking lot of my apartment building. The child rode his scooter right at the dog, the dog jumped on him and bit him. There was a small scratch which stopped bleeding when I used an wipe on it. I bandaged it. The parents took him to the emergency room where the wound was cleaned out and he was given antibiotics as a precautionary measure. No stitches. It was described as one small puncture wound. It was a very unfortunate accident with my generally well-behaved lab.

The hospital had to report the bite. My dog was quarantined for 10 days and released.

I did not have contact information for the parents, but through another neighbor I offered the pay the medical bills. The parents never got back to me. A few weeks later I received a letter from a lawyer letting me know they were going to hold me liable. Four months later I received a demand stating the medical bills were $1329.00 and they were seeking $6000.00. I immediately called the lawyer and said I would be happy to pay the medical bills, as I had offered to before. Nine months later I received a letter from the attorney stating their clients rejected my offer of medical payments. It is 2 months later and I just received a second letter, identical to that one.

As an aside, I have since moved and the letters are being forwarded to me.

My question is what action, if any, is required of me. I know that I am liable for the medical bills and offered to pay them and my offer was rejected. I am not going to file an insurance claim because I have the money. I certainly don't think I need to pay $6000. Do I just wait for them to take me to court? Do I have any obligation to let the lawyer know my new address? Do I just send a check for the medical bills?
 


#2
Was your dog on a leash?

Here is the law on the matter;

Section 155. If any dog shall do any damage to either the body or property of any person, the owner or keeper, or if the owner or keeper be a minor, the parent or guardian of such minor, shall be liable for such damage, unless such damage shall have been occasioned to the body or property of a person who, at the time such damage was sustained, was committing a trespass or other tort, or was teasing, tormenting or abusing such dog. If a minor, on whose behalf an action under this section is brought, is under seven years of age at the time the damage was done, it shall be presumed that such minor was not committing a trespass or other tort, or teasing, tormenting or abusing such dog, and the burden of proof thereof shall be upon the defendant in such action.
How old was the child? 7 or older, if your dog was on a leash you may have a defense to the claim as stated above. I see nothing requiring a multiplier of the actual damage but that doesn't rule out the possibility of pain and suffering for the child.

As to informing anybody of your change of address; there is no requirement you do so. Not doing so may delay the process but unless you go into hiding mode, it will do nothing more than delay the inevitable.
 
#3
My dog was on a leash. I am happy to pay for the medical expenses, and know that I am liable for them. The injury was very minor. It stopped bleeding the minute I cleaned it up with an antibacterial wipe.

I've now gotten two identical letters a few months apart saying they reject my offer of payment and that I should forward the letter to my insurance company. I was clear with their lawyer that I won't be filing a claim.
 
#4
I am not going to file an insurance claim because I have the money.
Then you, sir or madam, are shooting yourself in the foot.

I certainly don't think I need to pay $6000.
Any time you cause injury to another due to negligence, the other person is entitled to his medical bills and pain and suffering. That's why the lawyer is demanding $6000.

Do I just wait for them to take me to court?
That's up to you but you would be foolish to allow it as you would need an attorney to defend you and if you can't or won't get your insurance involved, that could cost you thousands.

Defending yourself against a lawyer without one of your own is like taking a rubber knife to a gunfight. You're the one who will end up on the ground bleeding.

Do I have any obligation to let the lawyer know my new address?
No.

But do you not think he will find you eventually? Trust me, he will.

Do I just send a check for the medical bills?
That would be just as foolish as not getting your insurance company involved.

There's a chance you might not be liable at all based on the statute that was quoted.
 
#5
Dog bites aren't the same as other types of claims. Insurance companies will often drop you and I am not going to take that chance. I'd rather pay the money out of pocket and am, luckily, in a position to do so.

I don't expect this to go away because of the address change, I'd just like to keep my new address private from the family. I'm pretty sure they're not a problem but you just never know.

And I am not trying to get out of any liability. I will gladly pay the medical bills since it was my dog's mistake.

The question is really do I need to take any action currently?
 

quincy

Senior Member
#6
... The question is really do I need to take any action currently?
No. You do not have to take any action currently. You are being sent demand letters but there is no force of law behind these letters. You can ignore the letters and wait to see if you are sued.

There are both pros and cons to waiting.

A pro is that the family may never file a lawsuit against you. Another pro is that, if sued, you have the chance in court to present your "side" of the story and present a defense (e.g., dog was on leash, child tormented dog, whatever).

The other party will need to support their demands with evidence (e.g., medical receipts, counseling/treatment for nightmares, pain at site of injury, whatever).

One con is that, if you are sued, you might be held liable for more than the actual damages (provable costs) and the $6000 (for pain and suffering?) currently being demanded to settle the case.

You could try to negotiate with the attorney representing the family, to lower the demanded amount to something perhaps more reasonable, or you could do nothing and let the family make the next move. No one here can tell you whether to pay now the amount demanded, pay a negotiated amount, or wait to see what happens, though. This is ultimately a decision you will have to make on your own.

Have you been provided with copies of all of the medical bills? Were they all from the single emergency room visit (e.g., no follow-up treatments, no infections)?
 
#7
No. You do not have to take any action currently. You are being sent demand letters but there is no force of law behind these letters. You can ignore the letters and wait to see if you are sued.
Thank you, that's exactly what I needed to know. I feel like I already responded and wasn't sure if I needed to respond yet again. I also now have written proof I offered to pay and that offer was rejected if it were to go to court.

Have you been provided with copies of all of the medical bills? Were they all from the single emergency room visit (e.g., no follow-up treatments, no infections)?
Yes, I have a copy of the medical bill. There was one emergency room visit. There was no follow-up.
 
#8
Another "con" is that settlement negotiations and demands are not admissible in court.

The attorney is asking $6000 now but when the lawsuit is delivered to you it could say $60,000 and the lawyer will parade a battle scarred little kid in front of a sympathetic jury and you'll wish you had your insurance company backing you up.

Still, it's up to you how you want to handle it.

By the way, if your insurance company finds out that you concealed this claim from them, they could drop you anyway. Find the "concealment, misrepresentation, and fraud" (or words to that effect) provision of your policy and read it.
 

quincy

Senior Member
#9
Thank you, that's exactly what I needed to know. I feel like I already responded and wasn't sure if I needed to respond yet again. I also now have written proof I offered to pay and that offer was rejected if it were to go to court.


Yes, I have a copy of the medical bill. There was one emergency room visit. There was no follow-up.
If you have not been sent any additional medical bills showing there have been follow-up visits, that generally means there was no infection. That's good. If the child has not visited a counselor, that is also good. Children often rebound quickly from injuries. The $6000 figure might be hard to support and could just be wishful thinking on the part of the attorney/the family.

That said, the family has three years from the date of the injury to file suit so there could be a long anxious wait for you. Because there can be a waiting period between the date of injury and the filing of a suit, if there were any witnesses to the incident, you should contact witnesses now and have them write out what they saw while it is still fresh in their minds. If they saw that the child was aiming for your dog on a scooter, for example, that can be an important observation. Hang onto your dog's quarantine papers. Hang onto all correspondence between you and the family, and you and the attorney.

You can consult with an attorney in your area of Massachusetts for a personal review and for advice on whether it would be smart to involve your insurance company. You can read over your homeowner's policy to see if it even covers dog bites or, specifically, away-from-home dog bites. It might not. With strict liability, you would owe the family the medical expenses absent a defense (possibly provoking of dog). Negligence (failure to exercise reasonable care) might be harder for the family to prove since your dog was on a leash.

Good luck.
 
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#10
If you have not been sent any additional medical bills showing there have been follow-up visits, that generally means there was no infection. That's good. If the child has not visited a counselor, that is also good. Children often rebound quickly from injuries. The $6000 figure might be hard to support and could just be wishful thinking on the part of the attorney/the family.
Yes, I feel that they are just trying to get as much as they can. I would not have a problem paying the amount if it felt warranted.

It was really very minor. There were no tears and the child was petting my dog after I cleaned up the wound.
 

quincy

Senior Member
#11
Yes, I feel that they are just trying to get as much as they can. I would not have a problem paying the amount if it felt warranted.

It was really very minor. There were no tears and the child was petting my dog after I cleaned up the wound.
The $6000 seems excessive for the incident you describe. Whether a court would find it excessive is a question mark.

Again, you might want to have a quick personal review by an attorney in your area but, currently, there is no need for you to do anything. You have not been sued. When/if you are served with a summons and complaint, that is the time you need to act.

Good luck.
 
#13
The $6000 seems excessive for the incident you describe. Whether a court would find it excessive is a question mark.

Again, you might want to have a quick personal review by an attorney in your area but, currently, there is no need for you to do anything. You have not been sued. When/if you are served with a summons and complaint, that is the time you need to act.

Good luck.
Thank you, that was my feeling as well....both in regard to the money and in regard to taking any action at this time. I appreciate your response.

How old was the child?
9 years old
 

quincy

Senior Member
#14
Thank you, that was my feeling as well....both in regard to the money and in regard to taking any action at this time. I appreciate your response.


9 years old
Thank you for providing the age of the child. Depending on all facts, a defense to even the medical expenses potentially could be fashioned since the child is over the age of 7 - but I understand that you want to take care of the medical costs anyway. It appears to me that the medical costs are the most the family can hope for in the described situation (but I have been surprised in the past).

Good luck, freeusername. Please keep us informed on what happens.
 
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