As with most kinds of personal injury claims, cases stemming from dog bites can be resolved at almost any point between the time of the incident and the moment a judge or jury renders a verdict at the conclusion of a trial. But resolution is most likely to occur during specific phases in the life of this kind of claim. Let’s take a look at some possibilities.
Dog Bite Claims May Settle Before a Lawsuit is Filed
If the dog owner and the injured person fundamentally agree about what happened, who is at fault ("liability"), and the extent of the resulting injuries and losses ("damages"), then a dog bite case can settle without a lawsuit even being filed.
This usually means that:
- the injuries are minor or at least not susceptible of worsening over time
- the injured person did not have any pre-existing injuries that the dog bite may have aggravated
- the party who did not properly restrain or control the dog was indisputably the only person at fault, and
- the at-fault party was covered by insurance at the time of the accident. (More: The Role of Insurance in Settling an Injury Claim.)
This kind of “clear liability” dog bite case still must be supported by evidence of liability and damages, which means:
- written statements from eyewitnesses
- photos of the incident scene, the dog on or off leash, any open fences or gates through which the dog may have escaped, and injuries
- medical treatment records
- medical bills
- estimates and/or receipts for any other losses, and
- proof of lost earnings for any work absences caused by the incident.
In such instances, there really is nothing to argue about in court. That usually becomes clear within the first 30 to 90 days after an accident, during which time settlement would be likely.
Discovery and Motions
After a lawsuit is filed, a dog bite case enters the "discovery" phase, where the two sides gather information that could lead to important evidence at trial -- that means on-the-record testimony of parties and witnesses at depositions, and the exchange of written questions and answers (interrogatories) between the parties. (Learn more about Questions the Plaintiff Will Get Asked At a Dog Bite Deposition.) This is where the detailed picture of liability and damages starts to come into focus.
For example, if it turns out that the injured person (“plaintiff”) walked up to pet the dog while it was leashed and against the warning of the dog’s handler, those facts would suggest that the plaintiff may well share the fault -- or even bear complete responsibility -- for their own injuries, regardless of how extensive they were.
The discovery phase usually lasts from six to 12 months following the lawsuit’s filing. After the discovery process, if the dog owner and his or her representatives (meaning an insurance company or lawyer) believe the plaintiff has fallen short of pleading the required elements of the case, they may file motions asking the court to issue a "summary judgment" in favor of the defendant.
Shortly after discovery is completed, most courts schedule the parties for what is called “alternative dispute resolution” (ADR), typically mediation, to encourage them to reach a resolution with the help of a neutral third party. The mediator can help the parties understand the most likely outcome if the case goes to trial -- how a judge or jury probably will decide -- and steer them toward an agreeable settlement.
In a dog bite case, a mediator can help the parties see how successful their arguments and evidence might be to a judge or jury, including issues such as:
- whether the plaintiff was partially at fault
- any past incidents of the dog biting someone, and
- whether the dog was adequately restrained at the time of the incident.
The mediation process itself may last between a few hours and a couple of days. If successful, the claim may be resolved and the lawsuit dismissed within less than a year after the underlying dog bite incident.
Only a very small amount (about two to five percent) of personal injury cases reach the trial stage as the last resort after all other attempts at resolution have failed. Trial is expensive and time-consuming, and the outcome is uncertain. Parties sometimes can wait as long as two years or more before their personal injury case gets to trial. Especially after a relatively minor dog bite, your claim stands a good chance of being resolved well before trial.