What happens during a dog bite lawsuit?
A dog bite can be a frightening and stressful experience. Filing a lawsuit may add stress, especially for families that have never been involved in a court case before. An experienced attorney works to reduce that stress and resolve the case effectively.
Often, the early stress of a lawsuit comes from facing the unknown. Understanding the basic process of a dog bite lawsuit can reduce this stress. When you know what is ahead, you can make plans, ask questions, and think more clearly about the outcome you want.
Exploring your options and choosing a dog bite attorney
A vital first step in pursuing a dog bite claim is to choose the right dog bite lawyer for you. Look for a lawyer with experience handling dog bite claims and a track record of success.
Many lawyers offer an initial consultation. This consultation allows you to learn more about the lawyer, and it helps the lawyer understand your case. When you have a consultation:
- Bring medical records, notes, and any other paperwork you have that relates to the injury.
- Ask the lawyer about their experience and results in past dog bite claims.
- Discuss how the lawyer will communicate with you about your case.
- Write down any questions that come to mind before your meeting, and bring the list with you as a reminder.
It’s also important to talk about payment. Most personal injury lawyers take cases on a “contingency” basis, which means they receive no fee unless your case succeeds. If your case does not succeed, the lawyer doesn’t get a fee, but you may need to pay for certain costs, like the cost of filing a lawsuit with a court. Read an attorney contract carefully and ask any questions you have before you sign.
Investigating your dog bite case
Once you’ve chosen an attorney, your attorney will research your case. Research at this stage includes looking at any paperwork and records you have, asking questions, and collecting certain records, like medical records.
Your lawyer may also contact insurance companies directly to speak on your behalf. If the dog’s owner has a lawyer, your lawyer may speak to their lawyer as well.
During these conversations, your lawyer may try to settle your case without the added stress and expense of filing a lawsuit. Often, an insurance company will make an offer. Your attorney will inform you of the offer and give you their professional opinion.
Your attorney’s advice about a settlement offer is based on long experience. This opinion can be valuable information. Your attorney cannot decide for you whether or not to take an offer, however. The final decision is yours.
Filing a lawsuit and handling pre-trial steps
If your case cannot be settled, your lawyer’s next step will be to file a lawsuit in court. Once a lawsuit is filed, a judge sets deadlines for each step leading up to trial. This process can take months or even years in a complex case. Your lawyer will keep you informed at each step.
Common steps in the pre-trial phase include:
- Complaint and answer. The “complaint” is the first document filed in a lawsuit. It explains your side of the case: How you were injured, who is responsible, and what damages you suffered, all from your point of view. The “answer” is the other side’s response. In the answer, the other side admits or denies each allegation made in your complaint.
- Discovery. During discovery, each side gathers information about the case. Information may include answers to written questions (interrogatories), copies of documents like medical records (requests for documents), and recorded oral testimony (depositions). In a dog bite case, a physical examination of the injuries may also be part of discovery.
- Motions. The other party may try to file a motion to convince the court to do something for them. For example, the other side may file a motion for summary judgment, asking the court to rule in their favor as a matter of law. The judge may hold a hearing on a motion to learn more about each side’s arguments.
Exploring non-trial resolutions
In most dog bite cases, both sides seek ways to resolve the case without going to trial. One way is to continue negotiating a potential settlement.
Another common non-trial resolution is mediation. In mediation, both parties and their lawyers meet with a neutral third-party mediator. The mediator helps the parties find common ground and reach an agreement they can both accept. However, the mediator cannot force the parties to accept a decision. If the parties can’t agree through mediation, the case continues toward trial.
Going to trial
A courtroom trial follows a set of precise steps. In a jury trial, a jury is selected and sworn in before the trial itself begins. Then, each side presents its case to the judge and jury (or to the judge alone in a bench trial).
As the arguments are presented, the judge or jury decides whether the defendant is legally responsible for your injuries, and if so, what the defendant must pay.
Planning the next steps
Even when a trial ends in your favor, there are a few final matters to address. For instance, you may face a waiting period while financial matters are settled before you receive any monetary damages that the court awarded to you.
The other side may decide to appeal the case. In an appeal, a higher court reconsiders the ruling. If the higher court agrees, the ruling stands. If the higher court disagrees, the case may be sent back to the trial court.
Personal injury claims can be complex. Working with an experienced lawyer improves your chances of success. Your attorney can provide information, answer your questions, and tackle complex tasks so that you can focus on healing and moving forward. Choose a lawyer with experience handling cases like yours.