I am being sued over a dog bite. The incident occurred in a store two months ago. My wife had our 20 pound terrier on a leash when the plaintiff walked up behind them, startling our dog who nipped him on the leg. The man grew angry and I apologized, but evidently not to his satisfaction because after leaving the store he came back saying he wanted the store manager to call the cops. I then spoke to the man, apologized again for what happened and gave him my name and number saying I would pay for any medical problems he had as a result of the bite. I looked at his leg and saw nothing, not even a scratch. The man said he accepted my apology and said he wasn't the sort to make a big deal out of things. I should have stayed to talk to the police myself but thinking the matter otherwise settled I went home. Later that afternoon an animal control officer came to my door to tell me that she was the one who responded to the incident. She said she took the report but since the bite didn't break the skin the report would not be submitted and that the dog would not have to be quarantined. Now last week I received a letter from the man's attorney saying I am being sued for damages and suffering. I called the attorney in response to his letter asking if I have homeowner’s or renter’s insurance (I don’t). During the conversation the attorney said that his client is claiming that he received puncture wounds from the bite and that he's waiting to get back medical records before determining what he will offer in terms of a settlement. I didn't not tell him that I had earlier spoken to animal control and they confirmed that while a bite report was taken, it was not submitted because there was no puncture wound or skin break. My question is should I fight this? The man is obviously lying about having received a puncture wound, but I don't know if it matters that I have witnesses (including the animal control officer) who will say that the man ‘s leg was not punctured and he was not injured.
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4 Answers from Attorneys
You will need to take on the plaintiff, and would best be served by your own attorney.
Certainly you should fight it. Both the attorney and claimant seem suspect. There is no reason the attorney would need to wait for past medical records unless his client claims to have been bitten before. You look at past medical records to check on prior similar injuries or symptoms; there should be none except for prior dog bites. The report from the animal control officer destroys his case as she is a neutral person expert in seeing whether there are any bites, scars, etc. You also did not seen anything. What proof does he have? Any photos or medical treatment shortly after the incident?
Under California law you are liable, but he has to show some damages. A dog nipping a t a grown man's leg does not cause any worthwhile emotional trauma. The case, based upon the facts you present, has no value. When the attorney calls back see how much he wants; if he asks for a few hundred dollars say no and tell hi the above facts. If he says several thousand, tell him you will think about it and then contact an attorney to write a nasty letter saying yo will not pay anything. I could do that for probably less than $100. First check with your homeowners insurance is there is any coverage for such an incident.
If you have homeowners insurance, contact them for defense. If not, then take the above advice to hire an attorney to try to negotiate a 'reasonable' settlement, whatever that means to you, or take it to trial if the other side is unreasonable. If serious about doing so, feel free to contact me.