Legal Question in Civil Litigation in District of Columbia

My boyfriend was walking our two dogs a couple days ago on leash. We use a gentle leader head harness with our dogs because they pull a lot. While walking past our neighbor the other day one of our dogs became startled or upset. We assume it was her large zebra striped hat, but how can we know for sure. Anyways one dog jumped or lunged towards our neighbor. This neighbor then said "Stella nipped at me". She didn't say she was bit, she had no marks. The following day we found a note on our door stating that several hours after that incident her hand began to hurt and swell and she now believed she was bit and was planning to go to the hospital for x-rays. My boyfriend spoke with the neighbor after finding the note. He stated he noticed no bruising on her hand where she was supposedly bit. I work with animals and have been bit several times by dogs and cats. From my experience 1. you know if you were bit or not, 2. pain is usually fairly instant, not something that comes about several hours later, and 3. there is generally bruising. Our neighbor then waited til the following day, 48 hours after the incident, to go to the doctor. My boyfriend and I are both sceptical that our dog actually bit her. At this point there's no discussion of a law suit or anything like that, but our neighbor did tell us she doesn't have insurance so I assume she's planning on us paying her medical bills. I don't want to label my dog as a biter by paying the bill if she didn't actually hurt this person. What can we do if we don't believe our dog is resposible for the injuries she's claiming?

Asked on 10/29/09, 2:48 am

2 Answers from Attorneys

Lawrence Holzman Holzman Law Firm, LLC

If your neighbor approaches with a reasonable bill, you may consider paying it in the context of having a written settlement agreement in which you expressly deny any responsibility and deny that your dog bit the person, and expressly state that the payment is simply to avoid the cost of litigation etc. That way you can take the least expensive and disruptive way out of the situation and still not "label" your dog as a "biter" as you put it.

You should have a lawyer prepare such agreement for you.

It may be that a couple of hundred dollars for medical bills and a couple of hundred for an attorney to draft a settlemend agreement will be cheaper in the long run (in terms of time, aggravation, missed work, and neighborly relationships) than denying everything and winding up in court.

You may want to review your homeowner's policy to determine what, if any, coverage you have for this as well. If your neighbor comes to you with a serious injury and bill, you will want to make sure that you immediately contact your carrier and let them know that you are making a claim (...and....if they deny the claim and tell you that the policy does not cover this incident you absolutely need to have your policy reviewed by an attorney. Insurance companies deny claims all the time when in fact a good attorney can get find ways to get coverage).

Read more
Answered on 11/03/09, 8:49 am
Lesly Longa Longa Law P.A.

I think I would wait to do anything until I saw proof of the injury (at least a picture) and/or received a dated doctor's invoice. You witnessed the incident and would know better than me. I would not admit that my dog did something I was unsure he did. Of course, if she was injured it would be better to just settle it among yourselves, as counsel above recommends.

Read more
Answered on 11/03/09, 9:55 am

Related Questions & Answers

More General Civil Litigation questions and answers in District of Columbia