My mother's dog bit someone. He is asking for money (in addition to medical bills) for the pain and aggravation this has caused him to settle out of court and has agreed to sue if he doesn't get the full sum of money. My mother does not have insurance to cover this, and she is unable to pay this as she is quite impoverished.
I have a couple of questions:
1. If we settle out of court somehow, what do we need to do to ensure that this individual doesn't come back with another demand of money? How can we legally ensure this is over?
2. If my mother cannot pay and she is forced to go to court and legally required to pay, will she go to jail for being unable to do so? Would this individual get any money from her going to jail?
3. If we ask to go to Small Claims Mediation, can this person refuse to go?
4. This one is a bit personal, but were you in my situation, what would you do? I want to help my mother but I need more information as to what my options are.
1 Answer from Attorneys
First of all, depending upon the circumstances of the incident, your mother may not even be liable for this. If the dog had never displayed these kinds of tendencies, and wasn't running loose, she could possibly present a valid legal defense. You might want to have your mother go to a legal clinic in her area or try to schedule an appointment for a low cost consultation just to review the facts with an attorney. An experienced personal injury attorney can also evaluate the victim's demand as to whether it is fair, taking into consideration the severity of the injury, the amount of medical bills, the length of time it took the victim to recover, or whether there is any permanent injury claim, such as scarring, he might have. Regarding insurance, I assume she does not have a homeowner's policy, as that would probably protect her.
If you do end up paying something as a settlement, you must get the victim to sign a full release acknowledging receipt of the proceeds, or agreeing to the terms if there is going to be a payment plan. This will protect your mother from getting sued later on. Again, an experienced personal injury attorney can be valuable in preparing a proper "all claims" release. Of course, if there is a payment plan and she fails to comply with the plan, she would be liable for that default.
If the case ends up in court and your mother is held liable, a money judgment would be entered against her. If she doesn't pay the judgment, the victim could attach her property, such as a bank account, or garnish her wages if she is employed, in order to collect the judgment. Also, the judgment would bear interest until paid. Your mother will not go to jail for failure to pay.
Most civil suits, especially small claims (under $5000 in Maryland), go through some mediation process before an actual trial, and the parties can be required to attend. This doesn't mean a settlement can be forced upon either party.
In summary, assuming no insurance, check with your county bar association to see what options are available for a reduced fee or even pro bono (free) consultation with an attorney before making any decisions.