If you suffered a dog bite injury and need to seek compensation, your demand letter is your first opportunity to request payment for your injury. Read on to learn about the crucial elements to include in your demand letter, why the insurer may not take the letter seriously, and how a dog bite attorney can assist you in demanding fair compensation for your injury.
6 Crucial Elements of a Demand Letter After a Dog Bite Injury
Around 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs yearly in the U.S., and around 800,000 of those bites will require medical treatment. If a dog bites you and you incur expenses—such as medical expenses and lost wages from missing work due to your injury—you can seek compensation through the personal injury claims process.
Many individuals who only incurred minor injuries or expenses will choose to do this task on their own rather than seeking the assistance of a personal injury attorney.
A dog bite victim makes a personal injury claim against the dog owner’s, homeowner’s, or renter’s insurance policy. To submit your demand, obtain the name of the insurance company that carries the policy. If the dog owner is not insured, you can send the demand directly to them.
Here is a look at what the demand letter should include.
1. Statement of Facts
You must include a narrative of how the dog bite occurred. Be sure to include details such as the type of dog that bit you, the address where the bite occurred, whether the dog owner was present when the dog bit you, and what you did after the bite. Not if you sought medical treatment, treated the wound at home, or filed a complaint with your city’s animal control department.
You must include a statement as to why the dog owner is liable in your state. Have a firm understanding of the dog bite liability laws in your state. Some states follow a one-bite rule in which a dog owner is only responsible for compensating expenses and effects of injuries caused by their dog if they knew or had reason to know that the dog was capable of being vicious. Essentially, this grants the dog owner one free bite.
Other states follow a strict liability rule for dog bite claims: the dog owner is liable for injuries even if the dog never exhibited aggressive behavior toward people before. Some states follow a hybrid of the two rules: The owner is strictly liable only for medical expenses the first time their dog bites but does not have to pay for other types of expenses and effects—such as wage loss or pain and suffering—unless the victim proves that the owner negligently failed to protect others from their dog.
When discussing liability in your demand letter, cite pertinent city ordinances or state laws that support your claim.
Your demand letter should also include details of your injuries and how those injuries affect you.
Examples of the effects to explain in a demand letter are:
- Days missed from work.
- How frequent and painful your medical treatments are.
- Whether you suffered an infection and had to incur additional treatment.
- Whether the injury you suffered is likely to have an impact on your future earning capacity.
Damages means compensation for harm. Economic damages refer to payment for the out-of-pocket expenses you incurred from the injury, such as medical expenses or wage loss. There are also non-economic damages, which refer to payment for the psychological consequences of your injury, such as emotional distress and physical pain and suffering.
For your demand letter, list a value to your claim that includes the costs of the expenses you incurred.
5. What to Include in Your Demand
Most demand letters are part of a demand package that includes documentation of the expenses incurred from the injury and other evidence to prove your claims, such as written witness statements, photographs of your injuries, or a statement from your employer listing the income you lost because of the injury.
Sign your demand letter in blue or black ink. Make copies of each page of the demand package and retain them for your records. Send the package by U.S. certified mail with a return receipt requested. When the receipt returns, retain it along with your copy of the document package.
6. What Happens Next?
When the insurance company receives the package, they assign it to a claims adjuster. The insurance company hires the claims adjuster to protect its bottom line by evaluating each claim and determining how much compensation (if any) it owes the claimant.
In simple cases featuring strict liability, a low value, and a thorough demand package, the claims adjuster will often agree to a settlement without much negotiation. In higher-valued claims or states with more complex liability rules, negotiating a settlement is likely to prove much more difficult. There is a good chance the claims adjuster won’t take your claim seriously.
Why an Insurance Company May Not Take Your Dog Bite Claim Seriously
If you have a serious injury or your case is highly complex, and you submit a demand package on your own, the claims adjuster will likely assume that you do not have the assistance of an attorney.
Unless you’ve obtained years of education and experience in personal injury law, their next assumption will be that you are unfamiliar with dog bite liability laws and the personal injury claims process. They will likely use your lack of legal knowledge to reduce the value of your claim or eliminate it.
Here are a few things about insurance companies that most people don’t know:
- The insurance company must respond to your claim promptly. Failure to do so can result in a bad faith insurance claim against them.
- If the claims adjuster denies your claim, they must notify you in writing and provide a reason for the denial.
- If the claims adjuster offers a settlement for your dog bite claim, they will generally offer far less than the stated value of your claim.
- The claims adjuster isn't required to tell you the truth when offering a settlement. For example, they can make a low settlement offer with a deadline and state that this is the maximum offer available, and you must agree to it quickly. If you believe them and agree to the settlement, you cannot seek additional compensation.
- If the insurance company fails to offer you a settlement, you can file your claim in court as a personal injury lawsuit. However, you must file before the statute of limitations expires. Failing to file your claim before the statutory deadline generally results in losing your right to use the court system to seek compensation for your injury. If you do not have the option of filing a lawsuit, the insurance provider will likely not offer you a settlement because there is no recourse if they don’t.
5 Steps A Lawyer Can Help When Making a Dog Bite Demand
An experienced dog bite attorney can provide many services to assist you in seeking compensation for your dog bite injuries, including those listed below.
1. Properly Valuing the Claim
The costs of your injury are not always financial. Dog bite injuries can result in significant scarring, infections that require additional treatment, the inability to continue working in your chosen career, mental health issues such as trauma and depression, difficulty sleeping, and more.
Non-economic damages are an important part of a personal injury claim. An attorney can properly value your claim to include compensation for the effects your injury has had on your life or will likely have in the future.
2. Making the Demand
Gathering the evidence needed to submit your demand letter is often time-consuming and frustrating for someone unsure of the process. You probably don't know what documentation you need or how to obtain evidence such as witness statements or proof of a dog's bite history in a state that follows the one-bite rule.
A dog bite lawyer knows the evidence needed to prove your claim and how to access the evidence. They generally have a team of legal professionals at their firm to help obtain evidence and documentation.
3. Settlement Negotiations
Because a dog bite injury lawyer has ample experience with the pertinent laws, the insurance company's interests, and the intricacies of the legal process, negotiating a settlement is a lot less daunting than it is if you attempt it on your own. An attorney can negotiate on their client's behalf, guiding them to make an informed decision about the quality of the offer.
4. Minding the Deadline
While most dog bite claims—like other types of personal injury claims— resolve through settlement, an attorney knows the importance of maintaining your option to seek compensation for your injury in court and will manage the deadline for your case.
If the insurance company doesn’t make an offer to fairly compensate you for your dog bite injury and you’ve filed a lawsuit, your case will go to trial. If you pursue compensation without an attorney, you must follow the court formalities and perform the duties necessary to prove your claim.
You can guarantee the dog owner's insurance company will have an attorney to represent them. Having an attorney levels the playing field. Your attorney performs litigation services such as presenting evidence, questioning witnesses, and making opening and closing arguments.
Why Hiring a Dog Bite Attorney Is More Affordable Than You Think
Unlike other attorneys, personal injury attorneys do not require a retainer or hourly billing for their services. Instead, they work on a contingent fee, which allows their clients to withhold payment for their services until the claim resolves. When that happens, the attorney receives a percentage of the award.
Despite the contingent fee billing method, which allows anyone access to a personal injury attorney when they need one without an upfront investment, many individuals are still unsure whether they need an attorney or even have a claim. Personal injury attorneys generally provide free case evaluations, offering an obligation-free opportunity to learn more about the process and obtain answers to your questions about your dog bite claim.
Let a dog bite lawyer near you help you explore your legal options for seeking compensation for the expenses and impacts of your dog bite injury. You can start with your free case evaluation.