Ohio Dog Bite Book


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The Toledo dog bite injury attorneys at the Charles Boyk Law Offices provide this guide for victims of dog attacks in Ohio.

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Ohio Dog Bite Book

  1. 1. THE OHIODOG BITE BOOK D O N ’ T L E T I N S U R A N C E C O M PA N I E S G E T T H E I R T E E T H I N T O YO U CHARLES E. BOYK LAW OFFICES, LLC405 Madison Ave., Suite 1200, Toledo, OH 43604We also have offices in West Toledo, South Toledo, Findlay, Bowling Green, and Swanton. www.charlesboyk-law.com
  2. 2. THE OHIO DOG BITE BOOK QUICK HITS Seek treatment immediately – The best thing you can do after a dog bite is to seek medical treatment immediately and follow your doctor’s orders. Notify authorities – If you’ve been bitten, contact the police or county dog warden so the appropriateCopyright © 2008 by Charles E. Boyk, Michael A. Bruno, reports can be made. Also, all bites are required to beand Dale R. Emch. reported to the local health department. The dog must be quarantined for 10 days in order to deter- mine whether it had rabies at the time of the bite.All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or re-produced in any manner whatsoever without written permis- Don’t rush to settle your claim – Don’t settle yoursion of the author(s). claim before you complete your medical treatment. A few thousand dollars may sound good until youPrinted in the United States of America. realize it doesn’t come close to compensating you for your injuries. Don’t underestimate the insurance adjuster – Insurance adjusters have a huge advantage overISBN 978-0-615-21748-2 you because they settle claims every day. You need a lawyer to help deal with them. Don’t provide a statement to the adjuster – Don’tCharles E. Boyk Law Offices, LLC make any statements about your case until you con-405 Madison Avenue, Suite 1200 sult with a lawyer.Toledo, OH 43604www.charlesboyk-law.com 1
  3. 3. THE OHIO DOG BITE BOOK THE OHIO DOG BITE BOOKDon’t sign medical authorization forms – Don’t DOG BITES CAN BEsign authorization forms that allow an insurance DEVASTATINGcompany access to your private medical records. The attorneys in our office are all dog lovers.Only sign forms completed by your lawyer. Like most people, we view our dogs as part of the family.Document everything – Start a file for all police, But, unfortunately, we often see the devastat-medical, and insurance documents related to your ing consequences that can result from dog bites.case. We’ve seen injuries ranging from scars our clients will bear on their faces for the rest of their lives toHonesty is the best policy – Be honest about your wounds so deep that muscle and ligaments were ex-injuries. Nothing will kill your claim faster posed. Obviously the bites and resulting medicalthan being caught in a lie. treatment are painful. But being attacked by a dog also can be tremendously scary, particularly if theDon’t hide information from your lawyer – Your victim is a child or an elderly person.lawyer needs to know the good, the bad, and the ugly In the United States, approximately 800,000about your case to properly represent you. people a year suffer injuries from dog bites that are significant enough to require med-Don’t exaggerate your injuries – Exaggerating the ical treatment, according the Centers forextent of your injuries could come back to haunt you Disease Control and Prevention. Childrenif the insurance company films you participating in are particularly vulnerable. Of the dog-bitean activity you shouldn’t be able to do. victims needing medical attention, half are children, the CDC found. Kids between the agesHire a personal injury lawyer – Insurance compa- of 5 and 9 years old experienced the most bites, ac-nies employ professionals who deal with personal cording to the CDC.injury cases every day. Shouldn’t you? Some bites, while painful, require little re- covery time. Others, though, cause damage to muscles, broken bones, and serious disfigure- ment. Victims with serious injuries may face n u m e r o u s p h y s i c a l t h e r a p y s e s s i o n s and multiple surgeries. Children, particularly those 2 3
  4. 4. THE OHIO DOG BITE BOOK THE OHIO DOG BITE BOOKwith facial scars, may have to endure a number of please feel free to give us a call at 419-241-scar-revision surgeries as they grow up. 1395 or 800-637-8170. You can also visit our People who go through the traumatic experi- Web site at www.charlesboyk-law.com.ence of being bitten by a dog deserve to be fairlycompensated for their medical bills and the pain WE CAN HELP YOUthey’ve suffered. The most likely source for that The authors of this book have more than 50compensation will be the homeowner’s insurance years of combined legal experience. Chuck Boykpolicy of the dog owner. And anyone who has dealt has been in private practice for 24 years and headswith an insurance company knows that the company the Charles E. Boyk Law Offices, LLC. During hiswould rather keep the money in its pocket rather career, he has handled thousands of personal injurythan put it into yours. cases, including countless dog-bite claims. He has For most people, dealing with an insurance conducted numerous seminars for other attorneys tocompany after a dog bite or car accident is a new and help them understand the world of personal in-unfamiliar experience. That’s why we’ve written this jury law. In addition to his personal injury work,book. It’s intended to serve as a reference tool that Chuck has represented thousands of criminal defen-can help you deal with insurance companies and un- dants, handling anything from routine traffic of-derstand the nuances of dog-bite law. fenses to murder cases. We think this book is necessary because Mike Bruno also has been practicing law foryou’re at a natural disadvantage when you deal 24 years. Mike, who has been named an Ohio Superwith insurance adjusters who handle claims for Lawyer, has a unique background that benefits oura living. They do it every day and all day. In clients. As an assistant Lucas County prosecutor, heshort, they’re professionals and you’re not. It handled thousands of felony cases, including deathhas nothing to do with how smart or successful penalty murder cases. As an insurance defense at-you are in other areas of your life. Insurance torney, he handled serious personal injury cases rep-adjusters have the advantage because they set- resenting insurance companies. That experience hastle claims for a living. We wrote this book be- provided him with invaluable insight into how in-cause the attorneys in our office believe surance companies will view our cases. Mike hasknowledge is power. If you have any questions handled more than 100 jury trials, is Board Certifiedabout a dog-bite incident in which you, a fam- by the National Board of Trial Advocacy, and isily member, or a friend have been injured, AV rated by Martindale Hubbell, the highest rating an attorney can receive. 4 5
  5. 5. THE OHIO DOG BITE BOOK THE OHIO DOG BITE BOOK Dale Emch focuses his practice on personal STRICT LIABILITY IMPOSED ONinjury cases, and has handled a number of the of- DOG OWNERSfice’s dog-bite claims. He has a special interest in The laws and rules governing dog bites indog-bite issues, which led him to testify at an Ohio Ohio differ from those applied to other injuryGeneral Assembly committee hearing in favor of claims. To prove negligence in a normal case – amaintaining the state’s vicious dog law. In addi- traffic accident, for instance – the injured person hastion to practicing law, Dale writes a legal column to prove that the other driver had a duty not to injurefor the Toledo Blade in which he answers readers’ him; the other driver violated that duty; and that thequestions. He graduated cum laude from the violation of that duty caused certain injuries forUniversity of Toledo College of Law, where he which financial compensation should be awarded.was an associate member and note and In a dog-bite case, the victim doesn’t need tocomment editor of Law Review. Dale serves on show that the owner or keeper of the dog had a duty,the Lucas County Public Defender Commis- or responsibility, to see that the dog didn’t cause in-sion and the Media Relations Board for the jury. In Ohio, the owner, keeper, or harborer of a dogToledo Bar Association. is strictly liable for all injures or damages to property caused by the dog. Boiled down, what that means isTHIS BOOK DOES NOT OFFER that the injured person just needs to show that theLEGAL ADVICE dog bite caused injuries and that compensation We’re happy that you’ve taken time to read should be awarded for medical bills and painour book. You should note, however, that ordering and suffering.or reading our book does not create an attorney- Holding the owner, keeper, or harborer of aclient relationship. We also aren’t offering legal dog strictly liable for any injuries works to theopinions in these pages because every case is advantage of the dog-bite victim. It makes thedifferent based on the facts of the situation. case much easier to prove and eliminates a lot ofIf y o u want our legal opinion, please contact barriers to holding the dog’s owner responsible.us at 800-637-8170 or 419-241-1395. We’ll be Dog owners have just a few defenses: If the vic-happy to set up a free meeting with you. tim was criminally trespassing or attempting to trespass, or was teasing, tormenting, or abusing the dog. 6 7
  6. 6. THE OHIO DOG BITE BOOK THE OHIO DOG BITE BOOK These rules are drawn from the most relevant essarily the case. Please see the section below onstate law for dog-bite cases, namely Ohio Revised landlord liability.Code 955.28(B). That section of the code says:“T h e o w n e r, k e e p e r, o r h ar b orer of a d og LANDLORDS GENERALLYis l i a bl e i n damages for any injury, death, orloss to person or property that is caused by the NOT LIABLE FOR BITES Compensation for most dog-bite claimsdog, unless the injury, death, or loss was comes from the owner or keeper’s homeowner’scaused to the person or property of an individ- insurance policy. If the injuries from the bite areual who, at the time, was committing or at- serious, most people won’t have the money to paytempting to commit a trespass or other the victim fair compensation. They need to relycriminal offense on the property of the owner, on their insurance to cover the victim’s claims.keeper, or harborer, or was committing or at- This area becomes somewhat muddledtempting to commit a criminal offense against when the owner or keeper of a dog is a renter,any person, or was teasing, tormenting, or rather than the owner of property. If that personabusing the dog on the owner’s, keeper’s, or has rental insurance, the victim may be compensatedharborer’s property.” from that policy. If the dog’s owner doesn’t The statute speaks of owners, keepers, and have renter’s insurance, the dog-bite victim mayharborers. The definition of an owner is pretty try to seek compensation from the landlord. Thoughstraightforward, but the terms “keeper” and there are exceptions, this generally results in a dead end.“harborer” are a bit less clear. In Ohio, landlords generally are not responsible A keeper is a person who maintains some for the actions of a tenant’s dog. First of all, to maketype of control over the dog, even if only on a a landlord liable, it would have to be shown that thetemporary basis. So someone who is caring for a landlord harbored the dog. Almost all of the caselawdog or is in charge of a dog can be termed a keeper. that we’ve read says that landlords are not harborers A harborer is a person who controls the place of a dog if the tenant has exclusive possession andwhere a dog lives. Someone can be a harborer even control of the property. In most situations, tenantsif they simply allow a dog to live in the home are deemed to have possession and control of thewithout protesting its presence. That definition rental property during the lease period.would seem to include landlords, but that’s not nec- This equation changes slightly where rental property has a common area such as a shared yard or 8 9
  7. 7. THE OHIO DOG BITE BOOK THE OHIO DOG BITE BOOKshared hallway. If the bite happens in a common victims of dog bites often are left with scars on theirarea, a landlord might be liable as the harborer of faces or necks. Because they’re still growing, theythe dog. sometimes have to go through a number of surgeries Some judges have found, however, that if a over a period of years to repair their scars.landlord knew a tenant’s dog was vicious and stillallowed the dog to remain at the property, the PIT BULLS CONSIDEREDlandlord can be held liable for any injuries causedby a dog bite. VICIOUS DOGS Any attacking dog can be dangerous and scary, but pit bulls seem to create a greaterDOG-BITE VICTIMS HAVE risk of serious injuries. The attorneys in our office6 YEARS TO FILE LAWSUIT have found that a disproportionate number of our In any injury case, the victim has a limited cases involve pit bulls.timeframe in which to file a lawsuit or the claim will Under Ohio law, pit bulls are presumedbe lost forever. Dog-bite cases are no different, but to be vicious and are governed by specific rules.the timeframe is longer. A dog-bite victim has six Some of the rules include keeping the dog in ayears from the date of the bite to bring a lawsuit, as locked pen with an enclosed top, keeping the dogopposed to the two-year period people have if behind a locked fence, walking the dog with athey’ve been injured in a traffic accident. This pe- chain-linked leash, and carrying special insuranceriod is called the statute of limitations. to ensure that there’s an adequate amount of This extended period to bring a claim allows money available to compensate the victim of a pitpeople a better opportunity to fully recover before bull bite.they must bring a lawsuit. Dog-bite injuries often In most large cities in Ohio, pit bulls have be-take a long time to resolve, particularly if scar- come an increasing problem. In Toledo, where ourrevision surgery becomes necessary. main office is based, Lucas County Dog Warden Children have an even longer period in which Tom Skeldon has seen the number of seized pit bullsto file a lawsuit in a dog-bite case. A child who is increase from 50 in 1993 to 1,354 in 2007.bitten by a dog has six years past the age of majority Mr. Skeldon said those numbers are repre-to bring a claim, which means six years past their sentative of the increases of seized pit18 th birthday. The extended period works to the bulls nationwide.advantage of a child who was bitten by a dog. Child Mr. Skeldon has been a champion of trying 10 11
  8. 8. THE OHIO DOG BITE BOOK THE OHIO DOG BITE BOOKto control the pit bull population in Lucas County cials throughout the state with a powerful tool toand across the state. He’s witnessed the serious regulate ownership of dogs that have the ability, andinjuries pit bulls can cause because they’ve apparently the propensity, to cause tremendousbeen bred to bite and hold, while most dogs harm to people.simply bite and release. “I’m here today as an attorney who has dealt Pit bull advocates, though, continue to try to with the types of injuries pit bulls can cause instrip away the protections built into state law just a matter of seconds. In our Toledo law office,because they feel the dogs have been unfairly nine of the 23 dog bite cases we’re handling involvetargeted. The attorneys in our office remain pit bulls. That’s 39 percent, which strikes me ascommitted to maintaining the laws regulating being disproportionately high when you considerpit b u l l o w n e r s h i p b e c a u s e w e ’ve seen t h e how many different breeds of dogs there are in ourdevastating injuries caused by pit bull attacks. state. I recognize this is a such a small sam-Attorney Dale Emch, from our office, felt pling that it is statistically meaningless in thestrongly enough about the issue that he teamed broader context of this discussion, but it givesup with Mr. Skeldon and dog wardens across the you at least a glimpse of what we’re seeing. I’ll leavestate in resisting a proposed change to state law that it to Mr. Skeldon and his colleagues to provide thewould have stopped pit bulls from being labeled as statistical information this committee needs tovicious dogs. Here’s a copy of the testimony Mr. evaluate whether pit bulls should remain labeledEmch gave to an Ohio House of Representatives’ as vicious dogs.committee that was considering the change: “I’d like to provide you with some evidence of just how much damage these dogs can do. In the Dale Emch’s testimony three cases I’ll discuss, it’s worth noting that “ C h a i r m a n R e i n h a rd , t h a n k y o u f o r none of the attacks were provoked, nor is there anyal l ow i n g m e t o a d d re s s t h i s committee o n evidence that these dogs were trained to fight or thatt h i s c o n t ro v e r s i a l a n d i m p o r t a n t i s s u e . I they were owned by gang members. Somethingam testifying in opposition to House Bill tripped their switch and they attacked.36 6 b e c a u s e I t h i n k i t w o u l d be a mista ke “In the first case, my client is Samantha, a 2-not to keep pit bulls labeled as vicious dogs under year-old who was being pushed in a stroller by herthe state law. The law provides dog wardens like Tom parents through her neighborhood when a pit bullSkeldon in Lucas County and law enforcement offi- jumped its fence, ran directly to her, and bit her 12 13
  9. 9. THE OHIO DOG BITE BOOK THE OHIO DOG BITE BOOKon the forehead leaving a significant scar. I’d have been injured had the pit bulls been properlydirect you to Exhibit A, to see a picture of Samantha’s confined as state law mandates. So, obviously, theinjuries. As you can see, she’s fortunate the dog didn’t law can be broken and I’m sure it is routinely. Butinjure her eye. She’ll likely have a scar on her face for I’m also convinced that the law has prompted manythe rest of her life and she faces the possibility of at pit bull owners to buy the proper insurance, confineleast one scar-revision surgery. Had this pit bull been their dogs appropriately, and walk them onconfined in a pen with a top on it as required by state leashes sturdy enough to hold them if theylaw, Samantha would not have been bitten. lunge at someone. “In the second case, my client Steve entered a “I urge you both as a lawyer and a citizen tohome where he had done some remodeling work. He keep this bill from passing out of your commit-had been talking to his former supervisor for some tee. The General Assembly already has spokentime when a pit bull owned by his former boss on this issue and there seems to be no compellingsuddenly attacked him, doing severe damage to reason to change a law that has the potential to keephis arm. I warn you in advance that Exhibit B is a people from suffering the types of injuries sustainedgraphic example of the types of deep wounds pit by my clients. Thank you again for the opportunity tobulls can cause. The exhibit shows why Steve was in address the committee.”the hospital for three days and why it’s almost acertainty that he’ll need plastic surgery to repair It appears that the proposed bill that wouldhis arm. have stripped pit bulls from the vicious dog “Finally, in the third case, my client Leonard, definition has been killed. Nonetheless, we remain82 at the time of the attack, found himself sur- committed to working with Mr. Skeldon and otherrounded by three dogs when he was taking out his dog wardens to maintain laws designed to protectgarbage. He was alone and terrified that the dogs people from the devastating consequences that canwould knock him to the ground. Of the three dogs, be caused by pit bull attacks.only the pit bull attacked him, leaving puncturewounds in his legs that later became infected.He’s fortunate that a neighbor heard his screamsand came to his rescue. Leonard’s injuries are shownin Exhibit C. “In each of these cases, my clients would not 14 15
  10. 10. THE OHIO DOG BITE BOOK THE OHIO DOG BITE BOOKTIPS TO MAXIMIZE your injury and that you’re taking the processYOUR RECOVERY seriously. Compensation for the pain and If you’ve been injured by a dog bite, the suffering you’ve endured as a result of theinitial steps you take can make a big difference to dog bite will be based to some degree on thethe outcome of your case. We’ve compiled some tips amount of your medical bills.to help you avoid insurance company traps and Once you’ve started treatment, see itreceive fair compensation for your injury. through to the end. Don’t stop the second you start to feel better if your doctor has recommendedSeek treatment immediately. that you complete a certain amount of rehabilitation. The best thing you can do for both your If you stop early, you may not be fully healed.physical and financial health is to get the proper Resuming treatment months after you’ve stoppedmedical treatment for your injuries. This isn’t a sends a message to the insurance company thattime to tough it out and hope that you’ll miracu- you may not have been hurt in the first place or thatlously heal. Returning to health should be your top you’re trying to take advantage of the process.priority. You need to go to your family physician orto the emergency room to make sure that you get the Don’t rush to settle your claim quickly.treatment you’ll need to recover from the injuries If you’re reading this book because youyou suffered from the dog bite. were recently bitten by a dog, you may already Once you go to the doctor, follow his or her have received a call from an insurance adjusterorders so you can make the best recovery pos- trying to settle your claim. Typically, an adjustersible. If your doctor tells you to go to a phys- will wave a small amount of money under yourical therapist or a plastic surgeon, do it. nose to settle the claim quickly. It sounds good until This makes sense not only for your physical you realize you’re hurt more seriously than youhealth, but for your financial health as well. An initially thought or your medical bills end upinsurance adjuster is going to base any settlement eating into that money.offer to you on the medical care you’ve received If you’re tempted to settle your case below itsbecause it provides a way to measure your injuries value just because you need money for your med-and resulting pain. Getting treatment demonstrates ical bills, hold off. If you hire an attorney, the attor-to the insurance company that you’re not faking ney usually will be able to work out an arrangement with your health-care provider for your provider to 16 17
  11. 11. THE OHIO DOG BITE BOOK THE OHIO DOG BITE BOOKbe paid out of the proceeds of your settlement. The all of us while trying to avoid making fair settle-doctor or physical therapist will continue to treat you ments with people suffering from dog bites.without requiring payment after receiving what’s So, when an adjuster representing the personcalled a “letter of protection” from your lawyer. This who owned or kept the dog gives you a call, keep inallows you to continue getting the treatment that you mind where their loyalties lie. They’ll likely be ex-need, while ensuring the doctor is paid at the end of tremely pleasant, but they have one goal: to settle youryour case. claim as cheaply as possible. They do this for a living, Settling your case quickly doesn’t allow you all day and every day. Because this is probably theto be fully compensated for your medical bills, first time you’ve been seriously injured by a dogpain and suffering, and lost wages. It only bene- bite, you are at an obvious disadvantage. Be smartfits the insurance company because it won’t have when you’re dealing with them – or better yet, hireto pay out the full value of your case. a lawyer who deals with insurance companies on a daily basis. After all, the insurance companies haveDon’t underestimate the insurance professionals working for them, so you should too.adjusters who contact you. This tip goes back to what we discussed in the Don’t provide a statement to the adjuster.introduction. Insurance adjusters handle claims for a If an insurance adjuster contacts you, don’tliving. They’re judged by their bosses by how they make any statements about the dog bite, your phys-settle claims and how much money they save for the ical condition, and whether you’re being treating bycompany. This doesn’t make them bad people; a doctor. The adjuster may be recording your con-they’re just doing their jobs and looking out for versation and certainly will be taking notes. Anythe best interests of their employers. It’s up to statements you make about your injuries could comeyou and your lawyer to look out for your interests. back to haunt you. Simply thank the adjuster for It’s no shock that insurance companies often calling, tell her that you don’t want to make anyown the tallest skyscrapers in a city. They have statements, and that you don’t want her to callpowerful lobbies throughout the country and, along back. Tell the adjuster you’ll initiate a conver-with other business interests, have done their best to sation when you’re ready. You don’t have to be rude,get legislation passed that makes it hard for dog-bite but you need to be firm. The adjuster can’t make you talk.victims to be fairly compensated. They’ve gotten It’s a foreign concept to most people, butrich by collecting as much money as possible from you have to view your injury case with the idea 18 19
  12. 12. THE OHIO DOG BITE BOOK THE OHIO DOG BITE BOOKthat it could go to trial. Most cases don’t, but you that’s related to your dog bite. Only the informationdon’t want to hinder your negotiating strength by relevant to your case will be sent to the insurancemaking a statement to an adjuster that can be mis- company so your claim can be evaluated. Thisconstrued or twisted. The concern about making a protects you from having personal informationstatement is that you may not know the extent of winding up in the wrong hands.your injuries right after you’ve been bitten.It’s not uncommon for people to receive more Start a file to document everythingmedical treatment than they initially thought was connected to your case.necessary, especially if the bite becomes infected Make sure you keep every bill, police report,or if plastic surgery is required. dog warden report, and document connected to One way to avoid awkward conversations your claim. The insurance company has a right towith an adjuster or making statements that could see evidence of medical bills for which you’rehurt your case is to contact a lawyer to represent seeking reimbursement. Keeping track of youryou. Your lawyer will stop the adjuster from having bills also ensures that you won’t settle your claimany further contact with you. without making sure you’ve been compensated for all of your expenditures. This is true even if youDon’t sign any medical authorization forms at the have health insurance because you may have torequest of an insurance company. repay your provider for any bills they’ve paid on Insurance companies often try to get dog-bite your behalf if there’s a settlement.victims to sign authorization forms that allow access In addition to documenting your treatment,to their medical records. The forms usually are keep track of any wages you’ve lost because you’vedrafted so the insurer gains access to all of your med- been unable to work. Don’t assume you’ll automat-ical information, not just information relating to the ically get reimbursed for your lost wages. You havedog bite. It allows an insurance company to go on a to get a note from your doctor if you miss work be-fishing expedition for any other medical problems that cause of the injuries from the dog bite and you’llmight explain the pain you’re experiencing. have to get documentation from your employer If your injuries are serious, you should con- about your rate of pay and how much money yousult an attorney to deal with these issues. Your at- lost because you weren’t able to work.torney will ask you to sign medical authorizationforms that will be used to obtain the information 20 21
  13. 13. THE OHIO DOG BITE BOOK THE OHIO DOG BITE BOOKHonesty is the best policy. pair. Your lawyer can only help you if she has the Be honest when it comes to dealing with your complete picture. If there’s something awkward toinjury claim. Be honest with the insurance adjuster, be dealt with, he’ll handle it. But don’t put yourbe honest with your doctor, and be honest with your lawyer in a bad situation by hiding something.lawyer. Nothing will kill your claim faster than beingcaught in a lie. Your credibility will be crucial in resolving Don’t exaggerate the impact ofyour case, particularly if you have to go to trial. your injury. If you’re not in pain, don’t get unnecessary You’re entering a world you likely didn’tmedical treatment to drive up your bills. That does- know existed. As we’ve said earlier in this book,n’t mean you shouldn’t follow your doctor’s orders, insurance companies prosper by paying dog-bitebut don’t exaggerate the extent of your injuries. The victims as little as possible. In an effort to do that,truth eventually will come out, and when it does they’ll resort to what you may regard as underhandedyour case might become worthless. If your case goes behavior. They may hire a private investigator to spyto trial, your credibility with the jury carries tremen- on you, they may have someone engage you indous value. If jurors feel you’re not being honest, they conversation about your injuries, or they may video-won’t give you the fair compensation you deserve. tape you as you go about your day. You also have to be straight with your lawyer, We know of one case – fortunately not one ofwho won’t handle your case if he thinks you’re ours – where an insurance company investigatorlying. The attorney needs to know what’s really placed a video camera in a gym bag to record ahappening with your case in order to represent supposedly injured accident victim teaching anyou fairly and aggressively. aerobics class. Needless to say, the attorney handling that case dumped it immediately – and should have.Don’t hide information from your lawyer. People like that aerobics instructor give insur- This tip goes hand-in-hand with our advice ance companies reason to be skeptical. Theabout being honest. You’ll be making a big mistake problem is they se e m t o b e s k e p t i c a l o fif you hide information that is embarrassing or that everyone, even people with legitimateyou think will hurt your claim. You may get away claims.with it, but usually the truth comes out. And if it So, simply be honest. Don’t play games whencomes out at the wrong time in a deposition or it comes to dealing with your dog-bite case.at trial, your case may be damaged beyond re- 22 23
  14. 14. THE OHIO DOG BITE BOOK THE OHIO DOG BITE BOOKHire an attorney who devotes his practice to faces, and necks. These types of injuries oftenpersonal injury cases. require treatment by a plastic surgeon. Some- Earlier, we wrote about insurance adjusters times a number of surgeries are required overwho negotiate settlements every day. They’re a period of years as a child grows.good at it because it’s their profession. That’s If you or your child has suffered a disfigur-why you’ll need a lawyer to handle your case. ing bite, consult a plastic surgeon early in theYour lawyer not only will deal with the insurance process so the damage and scarring can be mini-adjuster, but he’ll navigate you through the com- mized to the extent possible. Ask your attorney orplex world of dog-bite litigation. your family practice doctor who the top plastic Armed with knowledge of the law and the surgeons are in town. Finding a skilled surgeonploys of adjusters, a lawyer can help you obtain obviously is crucial, but it’s also important to find aa fair settlement for your case. Numerous studies doctor who will be willing to document the injurieshave shown that you’re far more likely to end up and produce a report that can be used in negotiatingwith more money at the end of a case if you hire a your claim.lawyer rather than trying to settle the case on yourown. By virtue of handling injury cases every day, Take photos to document injurieslawyers develop a sense of how much a case is It’s cliché, but a picture really is worth a thou-worth. sand words sometimes, especially for dog-bite in- Furthermore, you’re not likely to have expe- juries. Take photographs of all the injuries causedrience with the types of arguments you’re going to by a dog bite as soon as possible. In our office, wehear from insurance adjusters. Hiring a lawyer have the client take photos and then we usuallylessens the amount of hassles you’ll face and hire a professional photographer to take additionalincreases the chance of a better result, even shots. Periodically throughout the treatment, we’llafter attorney fees and expenses are sub- have additional photos taken to document the statustracted. of the injuries. In addition to photos of the injuries, it alsoPlastic surgery is sometimes necessary would be wise to get photos of the scene. Photosfor serious bites often play a key role in any settlement discussions Children suffer the majority of dog bites and with an insurance adjuster. They also serve as cru-young children tend to be bitten on their heads, cial evidence if the case has to go to trial. 24 25
  15. 15. THE OHIO DOG BITE BOOK THE OHIO DOG BITE BOOKGather witness statements and YOUR LAWYER DOESN’T GETdog warden reports PAID UNLESS YOU DO All dog bites should be reported to the People are understandably nervous about hiringcounty dog warden and local health department. a lawyer. Fear that it will cost too much money stopsThe dog warden will conduct an investigation, some from consulting an attorney, especiallyprepare a report, and possibly cite the owner when expenses may be adding up as a result of aor keeper of the dog. Sometimes police officers will recent dog-bite injury. Dog-bite victims, however,conduct their own investigation. Dog-bite victims don’t pay their lawyer anything unless a settlementshould collect these reports and file them away in a is reached or they win in a trial.safe place. If you hire an attorney, the attorney can Most attorneys who represent accidentgather the reports for you and will use them as victims take what’s called a contingent fee,evidence for your claim. which means that the lawyer’s fee depends on In addition to collecting reports, try to his success in resolving the case. If you wintake statements from everyone who witnessed your case or get a settlement, the lawyer takes athe bite. Make sure you get the names, addresses, fee. If you lose at trial or the insurance companyand phone numbers for all potential witnesses in the won’t settle, you don’t get anything, but you typicallyevent the case has to go to trial. won’t owe the lawyer a fee. Usually, the lawyer takes one-third of the gross award or settlement. The arrangement works for both parties. The lawyer takes a risk that he’ll never get paid if the case bombs. The client gets to pursue his claim without having to come up with thousands of dollars in legal fees. Without this arrangement, some people never would be able to bring a claim because they couldn’t afford it. Trying cases can be costly because of the numerous expenses involved. Court reporters have to be hired to take depositions, those depo- sitions must be transcribed, medical records have to be ordered, expert witnesses such as doctors 26 27
  16. 16. THE OHIO DOG BITE BOOK THE OHIO DOG BITE BOOKhave to be consulted, exhibits have to be compiled, ATTORNEYS KNOW HOW TOand court costs have to be paid. The attorney usu- NAVIGATE THE LEGALally will cover those expenses because most peo-ple couldn’t come up with that much money. If PROCESSthe case settles or the client wins at trial, the In all but the most straightforward of dog-bitelawyer is reimbursed for the expenses he incurred injuries, these cases can become very complicatedin handling the case. Again, this arrangement ben- even for attorneys who handle these issues everyefits the client. Our firm handled one personal day. Dealing with insurance adjusters, health-careinjury case where the expenses alone were in the insurers, doctors, and attorneys representingneighborhood of $100,000. If we hadn’t paid for the insurance company can make resolving athose expenses, our client never would have dog-bite claim a long, frustrating journey.been able to pursue his claim even though he Hiring a lawyer to help you obtain fairhad an excellent case. compensation makes sense unless you’ve been When you meet with a lawyer, you will involved in a very minor dog-bite incident.have to sign an agreement that spells out how the If you hire a lawyer, he has a few optionsattorney will be compensated and how the expenses when trying to resolve your case. Some lawyerswill be paid. Make sure that the contingency fee file a lawsuit immediately, which has the benefit ofarrangement – typically 33 1/3 percent of the putting you quickly on a trial track. The other pathgross settlement or award – is clearly spelled out the attorney might take is negotiating with the in-in the contract. If you don’t feel comfortable with surance adjuster to resolve the case without havingthe contract, don’t sign it. You’re in control of the to file a lawsuit. Most attorneys, including thosesituation. If you have questions, make sure the in our office, prefer the second approach.lawyer answers before you sign the document. Lawsuits are time-consuming, expen-You can walk away after the case starts, but the sive, and unpredictable. The benefit of settlinglawyer will be entitled to get paid for the time a claim with the adjuster is that the client gets com-and expenses he’s incurred out of whatever set- pensated sooner and has a certain outcome. We only filetlement another lawyer obtains for you. suits quickly if the adjuster makes an unfair offer that When the case is resolved, you will get a we know isn’t going to get any better or if the statutecheck that represents the award or settlement, of limitations is about to expire.minus the attorney’s fee and expenses. Even with our approach, you shouldn’t expect a quick settlement. As we stated earlier, we think it’s 28 29
  17. 17. THE OHIO DOG BITE BOOK THE OHIO DOG BITE BOOKbest for the client to follow a doctor’s treatment plan CONCLUSION– even if it takes more than a year – rather than settling the We hope this book serves as a helpfulcase prematurely. This benefits the client’s health and case. reference tool for understanding dog-biteUltimately, your settlement or verdict will be based to some cases. Though the process can be long anddegree on the cost and length of your treatment. complicated, an attorney can guide you Sometimes going to trial becomes the only through this journey. When picking an attorneyoption. When you’re looking for a lawyer, make for your case, select someone who handles asure you hire someone who is willing to try lot of personal injury cases, including dog-bitecases if necessary. It can take a long time to cases. Personal injury lawyers deal with theget to trial, but it may offer your best chance legal issues specific to this field of law on aof getting fair compensation for your injury. If you daily basis.have to go to trial, be prepared for a long wait be- If you think we can help you with your case,cause judges have to juggle numerous criminal and please call us at 419-241-1395 or 800-637-8170. Acivil cases. It’s not unusual for a trial date to be set receptionist will gather some information andanywhere from six months to a year after the connect you with a lawyer. Calls that come intocomplaint is filed. our office after hours are forwarded to a lawyer. To learn more about our firm, visit our Web site at www.charlesboyk-law.com. We’ll schedule a free consultation with you and give you our professional opinion about whether or not we can help you. You can also order one of our other books: The Ohio Accident Book or The Ohio Work Injury Book. We have six offices in northwest Ohio where we can meet with you to discuss your situation. And, if we decide to work together, you can rest assured that we’ll fight to get the best result for your case. 30 31