Robert Mazow and Kevin McCullough of the law firm Mazow-McCullough, a personal injury law firm with years of experience dealing with dog bite cases, discuss the alternatives to dog bite lawsuits.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher and I’m here today 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 and today we’re talking about alternatives to dog bite lawsuits. Robert and Kevin, welcome.
Kevin McCullough: Thank you John.
Robert Mazow: Thanks John.
Alternatives to Dog Bite Lawsuits
John: Robert, lawsuits can seem scary to people and sometimes they might not want to sue their neighbor if maybe their child or they got bitten by a dog who is owned by a neighbor or a friend or something like that. What are some alternatives to dog bite lawsuits that a victim of a dog bite can use to get compensation for the injuries if they’re not really interested in suing the owner of the dog?
Robert: Good question. I’ve yet to meet a person that didn’t think any kind of lawsuit was scary and it’s the rare person that you find that wants to file a lawsuit just for the sake of filing a lawsuit. So our practice is to try to find as best as we can alternative ways without having to go through the process of filing a lawsuit. Sometimes of course you have to, but particularly with dog bites in Massachusetts, we have what’s called the strict liability law, which means that the owner or the keeper of the dog is going to be responsible except under certain circumstances for what happens to that bite.
So these cases generally tend to be able to be resolved without filing a lawsuit by way of general direct negotiation with the dog owner or more likely direct negotiations with the insurance company of the dog owner because the insurance companies in particular, they know these cases are very difficult if not impossible for the insurance companies to win or for the defendant dog owner to win. So they’re going to be looking for ways to try to resolve the case without having to file a lawsuit. And we look for ways to do that. One way would be, as I said, to do direct negotiation with the dog owner. Say, “Look, your dog caused an injury to me or to my family member and there’s medical bills and they need to be paid and let’s talk about a way to resolve that.”
If there’s homeowner’s insurance, then there tends to be more avenues of recovery because there’s going to be an asset there. There’s going to be an insurance coverage asset that you can make a claim on. And so you can make a demand for payment for medical bills, payment for lost wages, payment for scarring, disability, surgeries, things like that. So we’re going to look for every way possible to keep this case from going to suit or certainly to keep this case from going to trial if we have to.
Kevin: Just wanted to add and emphasize that filing a lawsuit is really the last resort for us. It’s not a starting point. There are a lot of different avenues to pursue in investigation that immediately should get underway as far as gathering the information. But ultimately, a lawsuit is a last resort. We try everything we can to resolve the case before filing a lawsuit. And a lawsuit is a scary situation and it becomes more complex if you’re considering suing a neighbor or a family member who may have brought their pet or dog over. And we appreciate the anxiety that goes along with that and we work with our clients to try to avoid filing that lawsuit. Oftentimes there are some risks that people undertake on their own in trying to negotiate or resolve the claim without a lawsuit or even without resolving the insurance company. And that’s why it’s extremely important when you’re in a situation or you have a family member in a situation involving a dog bite to reach out to an attorney, contact an attorney and try to get them involved in handling the case.
Benefits and Risks of Working Directly With Dog Owner
John: Right. So let’s talk a little bit more about the first option, which is working directly with your neighbor or the dog bite owner. What are some of the benefits and the risks of working directly with your neighbor?
Robert: I think what people run into is let’s say the example of a neighbor’s dog biting the child of the neighbor. There’s high emotions here, right? People have strong feelings about their animals, and people can become defensive about that and they can lose sight of the fact that it’s an animal, an animal causing harm to another person. So sometimes the emotions can run so high that you run the risk of alienating a relationship that otherwise would have been fine in the neighborhood. So that’s why sometimes getting an advocate, a counselor or a lawyer to get in between that can take the emotion out of it.
And when somebody comes to us and they’ve tried to reach out to their neighbor because the neighbor’s dog bit their child, things can go badly very, very quickly. I’m not saying it’s not possible. I mean, certainly people can understand that a dog can cause harm and they’re responsible for their dog’s behavior but more often than not, we see things going badly when you try to negotiate money with your neighbor because your neighbor’s dog bit your child. So while it’s not impossible to do it, I think it’s wiser to get a third party, like an attorney to get involved in a direct negotiation like that.
John: Right. I’d imagine that it’s a challenge to want to maybe show the medical bills to your neighbor and say, “Hey look, these are the actual bills that I’m getting for treatments to my child because of this.” And maybe you just don’t want to go through all of that. And like you said, it might be better to have an attorney be a go between you and the dog owner.
Robert: Right. And a victim of a dog bite might not even understand that they might be entitled to something more than just repayment of their bills. I mean, if a person is bit in the face for instance, and they have permanent scarring, that’s going to be there forever. And so there’s compensation that can be discussed with that. That’s a very difficult conversation for somebody to have with their neighbor about, okay, well now you’re going to have to pay me because your dog bit me or my child in the face. So there’s a lot more than just the medical bills that need to be looked at.
Benefits and Risks of Working with Insurance Company
John: So let’s move on to the second option, which is working directly with your insurance company. Is it possible to just call your insurance company, say, “Hey look, this is what happened,” and work it out that way without having to approach the dog owner at all.
Kevin: That is an option and a possibility. But it can be difficult in that if someone who is not an attorney handling a dog bite case or a dog bite situation either for themselves or a family member, they may not fully appreciate what the damages are that are available to the dog owner or the at fault person that was watching the dog at the time of the incident. So to appreciate all of those damages that you can seek compensation for and then just procedurally how to do it can be pretty difficult. So there are some risks involved with reaching out to the insurance company on your own or negotiating with the dog owner directly.
You may be signing documents that may preclude a case so and a case and then you run into a situation where you’re just not able to resolve the case or the situation and you then go to a lawyer and unbeknownst to you you may have extinguished any legal claim or right to recovery that you may have. So it is available, it is possible to deal directly with the dog owner, to deal directly with the insurance company, but it is a minefield and it’s something that at a minimum someone should be reaching out to an attorney to talk about what those damages are that may be available to talk about how to present the claim and to talk about the recovery and what that means.
John: Rob, any thoughts on working directly with your insurance company?
Robert: Yeah, just to clarify something. It’s not really your insurance company that you’d be dealing with. It would be the dog owner’s insurance company. Your insurance company is likely not going to cover you for injuries that happen as a result of your neighbors. We’re talking about liability insurance companies, of course. Certainly, if there’s a homeowner’s insurance company involved, it is much wiser to go directly to negotiate with them as opposed to trying to do it with the dog owner themselves.
John: And then do you think even better if you work with an attorney and have the attorney deal with all of that?
Robert: Yeah, because as I said earlier, there’s just so many … first of all, there’s traps for the unwary where a person might not understand that there’s statutes of limitations issues, that there’s future surgery potential that you might be entitled to be compensated for. You might want to have a plastic surgeon review the scar to give you an opinion as to what that might cost to repair. I mean, there’s just so many different layers that need to be looked at in a dog bite that I think a qualified, experienced attorney would be better served at handling that.
Working With Attorneys Without Filing Lawsuits
John: Would I be able to go to my attorney and say, “Hey look, I’m really not interested in going to a trial if at all possible, but I would like you to help me to either work directly with my neighbor or work with the insurance company.” As a victim, is that something that I can ask you to do, to try to stay away from a trial if that’s not what I want?
Kevin: Oftentimes we do have conversations like that with clients where they may not be interested in immediately filing a lawsuit and if we have to file a lawsuit, the first question is, are we going to have to go to court? Will there be a trial? Do I have to testify? And those are things that are really there as far as recourse for us. If we’re able to resolve the case with our clients either directly with a dog owner or property owner or directly with the insurance company, that is always the preference to be able to reach a settlement by agreement. And really whether or not a case goes to trial is something that is ultimately decided by the insurance companies involved or the dog owners in that we just can’t reach an agreement. We can’t reach an understanding or a common ground as far as trying to settle a case.
Kevin: So as I mentioned earlier, as much as filing the lawsuit is a last resort, going to trial is also a last resort. Those are things that are there and they’re available to parties when they can’t reach an agreement on something. But certainly with an attorney involved, it helps to gather all of the information, to put everything out there on the table to be able to discuss it with the insurance company or the dog owner and to work towards a resolution together without having to go to trial.
John: All right, that’s really great information. Rob and Kevin, thanks again for speaking with me today.
Robert: Thanks John.
Kevin: Thank you, John.
John: And for more information on dog bite cases or other personal injury cases, visit the firm’s website at helpinginjured.com or call 855-693-9084.