If you have been injured by a dog bite, the initial steps you take can make a big difference to the outcome of your case. We have compiled a list of seven mistakes you could make in order to help you avoid insurance company traps and to receive fair compensation for your injury:
1. Do not wait to seek medical treatment. The worst thing you could do after a dog bite occurs is to fail to seek medical care. This is not a time to “tough it out” and hope that you will miraculously heal. Returning to health should be your top priority. You must go to your family physician or to the emergency room to make sure you get the treatment you'll need to recover from the injuries you suffered from the dog bite. Remember that if you wait too long to go to the doctor, they sometimes will be unable to stitch your wound which means the scarring could be worse. Each situation is different so you definitely need to seek proper medical advice immediately to minimize the possibility of infection and scarring.
Once you go to the doctor, follow his or her orders so you can make the best recovery possible. If your doctor indicates that you need physical therapy or a plastic surgeon, do what he says.
This advice makes sense not only for your physical health, but for your financial health as well. The insurance adjuster is going to base any settlement offer to you on the medical care you have received since it provides a way to measure your injuries and resulting pain. This is the way the insurance company will value your case. Getting medical treatment shows to the insurance company that you are not faking your injury and that you are taking the process seriously. The ultimate result in terms of your compensation for pain and suffering as a result of the dog bite will be based to some degree on the amount of your medical bills. It will also be based upon the seriousness of any scarring and the permanency of the condition.
Once you have started medical treatment, make sure you finish it through to the end. Don't stop the second you start to feel better if your doctor has recommended that you complete a regimen of physical therapy for a certain duration of time. If you discontinue therapy, you may not be fully healed. Resuming months after you have stopped treating with the doctor sends a message to the insurance company that you may not have been hurt in the first place, that your injuries are not significant, or, that you are trying to take advantage of the process.
Children suffer the majority of dog bites. Young children are also less able than adults to comprehend that something that looks like a big stuffed animal is not a toy and is capable of doing harm. The unfortunate reality is that young children tend to be bitten on their heads, faces, and neck, partly due to the fact that they are lower to the ground and closer to the facial and bite level of a dog. These types of injuries often require treatment by a plastic surgeon. Sometimes a number of surgeries are required over a lengthy period of time as a child grows.
If you or your child have suffered a disfiguring bite, please consult a plastic surgeon early in the process so that the damage and scarring can be monitored and minimized to the greatest extent possible. Ask your attorney or your family practice doctor who the top plastic surgeons are in your area. Locating a skilled surgeon is obviously critical, but it's also crucial to find a doctor who will be willing to document the injuries and create a report that can be used in negotiating your claim. That report will lay out projected expenses involved in surgical procedures and a prognosis in relation to any scarring or other injuries suffered as a result of the dog bite.
2. Failing to take photographs of EVERYTHING. When I say everything I mean everything related to the dog and the dog bite incident. Obviously, you need to take photographs and keep the negatives in a safe place by either giving them to your attorney or placing them in a safe deposit box until you hire an attorney. Photographs should be taken as soon as possible after the dog bite has occurred. They should be taken with a proper camera rather than a cell phone camera because the quality of the photograph taken with a cell phone is usually poor. If the dog bite victim requires stitches then the stitches or the aftermath of the emergency room visit should be photographed as well. In the days following the dog bite, often bruising will occur in the area of the bite. Photographs of any bruising or any visible signs of the dog attack are absolutely essential to your case.
It is a cliché, but a picture really is worth a thousand words, especially for dog bite injuries. In our office, we have the client take the initial photograph and then we have a professional photographer to take additional shots at some point. Periodically, throughout the treatment we will need additional photos taken to document the status of the injuries.
In addition to the photographs of the injury, it is also very important to get photos of the scene or location of the dog attack. If it can be accomplished safely, photographs of the dog involved or any signs on the property of the dog owner indicating “beware of dog” should be photographed. Photos often play a key role in settlement discussions with the insurance adjuster. They also serve as crucial evidence in the event that the case has to go to trial.
On a similar note, make sure your keep all reports and documents together in the file and make sure that you quickly locate the name, address and telephone number of anyone who might have seen the dog bite incident. It is also very useful to find out if anyone is aware of the same dog biting anyone else prior to your dog bite injury. This helps us to investigate past incidents to see what actual knowledge the dog owner had of the vicious propensity of the dog which can strengthen the case.
3. Rushing to settle your claim. If you're reading this book because you were recently bitten by a dog, you may already have received a call from an insurance adjuster trying to settle your claim. Typically, the insurance company works fast to get hold of the injured dog bite victim before the victim can receive proper legal advice. An adjuster may wave a small amount of money under your nose to settle the claim quickly. It may sound good until you realize you're hurt more seriously then you initially believed or your medical bills end up eating into that money. Did you know that you have to reimburse the medical bills to your health insurance company in most cases? If you don't have insurance, you will have an outstanding doctor bill or ER bill. You may think that the insurance company is taking care of those things separately, but they are not. This is a common misconception.
If you're tempted to settle your case for what may be below its actual value just because you need money for your medical bills, hold off. If you hire an attorney, the attorney usually will be able to work out an arrangement with your health care provider to ensure that he is paid out of the proceeds of your settlement. Often, the doctor or physical therapist will continue to treat you without requiring payment after receiving what's called a “letter of protection” signed by you. This allows you to continue getting the treatment that you need, while ensuring that the doctor is paid at the end of your case.
Settling your case quickly rarely allows you to be fully compensated for your medical bills, pain and suffering, and lost wages. It only benefits the insurance company because it won't have to pay out the full value of your case or waste a lot of money paying an insurance adjuster and an attorney to defend the case.