John Maher: Hi. I’m John Maher. Today I’m here with Robert Mazow and Kevin McCullough of the law firm of Mazow McCullough, a personal injury law firm with offices in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
Robert and Kevin have a great deal of experience as dog bite attorneys. Today we’re going to be talking about what to do when a dog owner wants to deal with a bite privately. Welcome, Robert and Kevin.
Kevin McCullough: Thank you.
Robert Mazow: Thanks, John.
Should You Talk to the Dog Owner in Private?
John: What should a dog bite victim do if the dog’s owner wants to speak with him or her privately, regarding the incident?
Kevin: As far as communicating and talking with the dog owner, it really would depend upon the relationship between the victim and the dog owner. What I mean by that, is sometimes it can be uncomfortable if it’s a family member or a friend.
On the other end of the spectrum, it could just be a complete stranger. I would strongly recommend to my clients, if they have no connection to the dog owner, [if] it’s not a family member [or] a friend, that they avoid contact with the dog owner.
It’s human nature for someone to want to reach out to make sure that the victim is OK. I think that that’s a fair inquiry. Assuring the dog owner that the victim is OK and will be OK is fair communication.
The difficult part is when the dog owner is a family member or a friend. In that instance, I advise my clients to just be careful. Obviously, you don’t want to create a divide among friends and family members.
But you do want to make sure that, whether it’s you or your child that was bit, that you get the proper medical treatment that you need [and] that you listen to what the medical providers tell you as far as wound care.
Document the bite as best you can, and give as much information to the dog owner as is necessary, ensuring that either you or your child are OK and you’re going to be OK, and keep it limited.
John: Is there a danger in offering up information about, like you said, saying that you’re OK? Could that dog owner then come back, if it ever did go to court, and say, “Oh, well, I called them to find out whether or not they were all right and they said that they were fine.”
Kevin: We do frequently see situations when we’re contacted by a bite victim, either a few weeks or a few months after an attack, when there is involvement with the insurance company representatives.
Sometimes the insurance company representatives will be surprised at the extent of the injury, because they’ve either been misinformed by their insured, the dog owner, or they just didn’t truly appreciate what happened.
Oftentimes, there may be a statement that was taken from the dog owner or the victim, where it was stated that, “Yeah, I’m OK. I’m going to be OK.” That’s a fair statement. That’s an honest statement.
But it can be twisted and manipulated sometimes, or just misunderstood by the insurance company representative. You do want to be careful what you say. If it’s recorded, if what you say can potentially be used to defend your claim, it will be by the insurance company.
Again, the difficult part is, if it’s a family member or friend, you do want to still communicate with them. Let them know that things are going to be OK, and that you or the child will be OK from the attack.
John: All right. Maybe just be honest about what the situation is and say, “Yeah, we had to go to the hospital because there were some injuries, but we’re dealing with it. Ultimately, we’re going to be fine. But we were injured here and we did have to go to the hospital.”
Robert: It can become very tricky, because, like Kevin says, many times these bites happen with a dog that you know. A child visiting family/friends at Thanksgiving and they’re down, petting the dog. The next thing you know, the dog has bitten their face and caused serious injuries.
It’s a difficult balancing act, I would think, for a parent to decide, “Well, these are family or friends and we want to keep that. However, my child is going to be scarred forever,” so how do you balance that?
We have many difficult conversations with clients when they need to decide what’s in the child’s best interest. If it’s in the child’s best interest to make a claim, that’s what they should do.
If it’s in the client’s best interest to maintain the relationship with the family as best as possible, then that’s the decision that they need to make.
Is a Private Settlement With a Dog Owner Possible?
John: Is it possible to settle with a dog owner privately?
Robert: It is possible. I don’t recommend it without advice, because an inexperienced person isn’t going to know the extent of what the claim might be worth.
If a child is bit and a person offers a few thousand dollars, that might sound great at the time. But the victim might not appreciate that the scar might be with them forever and that the few thousand dollars being offered now wouldn’t be fair compensation into the future.
John: Would that offer have a legal binding to it at all? Or could this just be a personal transaction where they wouldn’t necessarily [have to commit to it]. They could offer $3,000 as compensation, but maybe they end up not being able to pay it or they don’t follow through with it.
Robert: Of course, that’s why you would tread very carefully in a situation like that. If I were the dog owner making a monetary offer of settlement, I would require a release of all claims.
Once I hand over that check and that check cleared, you can no longer go after me. If a dog owner wants to give a victim a few thousand dollars without any protection, then there’s nothing legally binding about that necessarily.
Kevin: I think the difficulty with dealing with dog owners privately, without an attorney, can be dangerous in the context of a child. Oftentimes, you don’t know how the injury or wound will develop and heal over time, and as the child grows, how the scars may stretch or affect their ability to move, or things like that.
If a parent does resolve a claim with a dog owner privately, on behalf of a child and then the wound or injury is much worse, there could be some legal implications between the parent and the child, the person whom you resolve the case for, whether or not you had the legal ability to do that without the courts involved and approving a settlement, and things like that.
It can be very tricky. It is possible, but it really depends a lot on the age of the victim and the extent of the wound.
How to Protect Yourself in a Private Dog Bite Settlement Agreement
John: What are some of the most important ways then that a dog bite victim can protect themselves in a situation where the dog owner wants to keep things private and speak with you?
Robert: Again, I would be very careful. If they were some sort of private negotiations, I would certainly consult an attorney, just to make sure that everybody’s rights are protected.
There’s nothing wrong with settling it privately. There’s nothing wrong if there’s no homeowner’s insurance [and] a dog owner steps up and takes responsibility for what his or her dog did.
But, again, especially dealing with a minor, these should be done properly through the courts, for a judge to approve that this is a fair settlement.
If somebody came to our office and wanted to do something privately, I would tell them, “Well, let’s just be very careful before we go ahead and do that.”
John: Right. That’s great information, Robert and Kevin. Thanks again for speaking with me, today.
Robert: Thanks, John.
Kevin: Thank you, John.
John: For more information on dog bite cases and other personal injury cases, visit the firm’s website at helpinginjured.com or call 855‑693‑9084.