How Much Is My Dog Bite Case Worth In Connecticut?
Ryan McKeen (00:01):
Hi. Good morning. I’m here with attorney Hailey rice. Good morning, Hailey. How are you?
Hailey Rice (00:05):
Good morning. I’m doing well. How are you Ryan?
Ryan McKeen (00:07):
I’m doing well. Hailey, I’m here to talk to you today a little bit about talk with you about the Miller case. Can you tell us what happened in the Katherine Miller case?
Hailey Rice (00:17):
The Katherine Miller case was a dog bite case involving a runner. Our client, Katherine was the plaintiff in the case and she was running down the street in her neighborhood like most of us do when the weather gets nice. Getting some exercise and she was not too far from her house and she was minding her own business and suddenly out of nowhere a dog came out of a yard into the street and started chasing her and she tried to run away from the dog. But before she was able to success escape, the dog made contact and bit her in the side and gave her some puncture wounds. She was eventually able to get away and went to the hospital to treat for those wounds and was left with some scarring on her side from that. And it had a lasting impact on her even though her treatment was more on the conservative side. She became afraid of running into her neighborhood and being out in public. She was thinking twice about going out to exercise because she was afraid that a dog might come out and attack her again.
Ryan McKeen (01:18):
And Hailey, can you tell us a little bit about Connecticut dog bite law in general? Not specific to this case.
Hailey Rice (01:25):
A Connecticut dog bite law in general is what we call a strict liability statute, which means that the owner of a dog is liable for damages that their dog does to a person or to a person’s property. There’s certain exceptions to that if a person was provoking the dog or antagonizing the dog or otherwise hurting them. But generally speaking, if you’re walking down the street, minding your own business and a dog comes out and bites you, the owner is going to be liable. Well for your damages in that case.
Ryan McKeen (01:56):
Now, Hailey, you face some unique challenges in this case. Can you tell us about really the first the first hurdle you had to get over, how you got over it and what can be learned from that, what other lawyers may be able to learn?
Hailey Rice (02:10):
Well, this was a really interesting case in that most homeowners insurance policies have some coverage provisions for damages that might be done by pets. So generally when someone has been sued for dog bite related injuries, they will go in, they’ll notify their homeowners insurance policy. If they are in fact homeowner and they’ll say, Hey, you know, there’s this claim, there may be coverage and they’ll have that conversation with their insurance company. In this particular case, as best as I could tell, that conversation never happened between the defendant and his homeowners insurance coverage. And although he received the lawsuit papers, he didn’t respond to them. He didn’t obtain an attorney. He didn’t notify his insurance company that would have possibly come and defended the case on his. So we got what was called a default judgment, which means that we the defendant was no longer able to contest the facts of the case.
Hailey Rice (03:09):
And the last thing in question was damages. It can be hard to collect damages when there’s no insurance money involved. So it’s very important to make sure that the proper coverage is invoked. So we wanted to find the insurance company and verify whether or not this claim would be covered under the policy and put them on notice so that if we did obtain the final judgment, they would be obligated to pay. That can be kind of a difficult thing to do. But sort of coincidentally, my background is in mortgage compliance. So I knew a little bit about the rules that were applicable to homeowners and insurance coverage and a lot of information about property owners and mortgages is available publicly on land record websites to the public. You can either go online or you can go into the local office and you can look up the lien that’s on the property and see who the note owner is and things like that.
Hailey Rice (04:03):
So I was actually able to go in through land records and look at who gave the mortgage on house. And we started to contact the chain of lien holders and issue subpoenas asking for information. We were able to, to obtain with a reasonable certainty that he had an FHA mortgage, which in fact requires him to have homeowners insurance policy on the property. So through some of the slew thing in the land records, we actually were able to subpoena the homeowner’s insurance policy that was in effect at the time of the incident. And then we were able to go to that insurer and say, Hey, we have this claim, we’re not sure if you know about it and give them the information. And they eventually sent an attorney to appear on the case and we were able to negotiate with the insurance company.
Ryan McKeen (04:50):
And that’s the kind of work and diligence that really makes all the difference, right. In these kinds of cases where if we could have this case and she could prevail and there could be no recovery if there’s no insurance because we don’t believe that the, the owner of the dog had much, if any assets and if there’s insurance to cover these things, it allows for fair compensation for what somebody who’s been bitten by a dog goes through. Right.
Hailey Rice (05:19):
Absolutely. And I think it was an important reminder to everyone in our office as we sort of watch this unfold about being resourceful and thinking creatively. You know, I think that a fair amount of people would have saw that and said, you know, Hey, I guess, you know, we’ll just kind of do what we can and, and see how things go. But our office took a more unique approach and using all the resources that were available to us to make sure that we got that fair compensation.
Ryan McKeen (05:46):
And that’s, that’s a really good point, Hailey. We do utilize in our office several different ways in which we have to try to, aside from checking land records to discover policies that may or may not be available on our, on a case to satisfy our client’s claims. So when you, when, when the insurance company appears, what happens? Do they offer any money? To Katherine? What sort of happened, let’s pick up the story from there.
Hailey Rice (06:16):
Well I received an initial contact from the adjuster, from the insurance company, just, you know, asking me what we were looking for on the case and whether or not they may be able to settle it without having to appear in the suit, just sort of expedite the whole process. So, you know, we were, we really understood what Katherine was going through. She and I had had some conversations about where she was in terms of her fear of running and sort of some of the aftereffects of everything. So we started off with a high demand and I made a demand for 125,000 to the insurance company. And they said, you know, I, I don’t think we’re ever going to be able to go that high. And if I recall after that, I think they made an appearance perhaps without making a counter offer.
Hailey Rice (07:01):
And so their attorney came in to the case and we had some discussions about settlement. And their offer was about 1000 at one point. And the, I think the thing that really illustrated the damages and made this case I’m really seeing was having the deposition of Ms. Miller being taken. She was able to come and she was able to tell her side of the story and really convey in her own words what she had been through and what she was worried about and how this incident really affected her. And once that happened, I think the insurance company really got the picture as to, you know, what kind of case they were looking at here. And you know, what her damages really were. And after that we were able to have some productive settlement discussions
Ryan McKeen (07:52):
And can, can, can so I mean, is it fair to say that it was, like, it was, it was your belief in your client and setting them up to tell their story, in a deposition. Can you tell folks a little bit who may not know what, what did that position is and what your role was specifically in the deposition and in general?
Hailey Rice (08:16):
Well, so a deposition in general is a formal agreement of the parties for the witness who was the plaintiff in this case to appear and testify under oath about what happens. So there’s a court reporter there that will write down everything that’s being said and swear the witness in. And then the defense lawyer in this case had the opportunity to ask questions about the plaintiff’s background about what happened in the incident, about how she felt afterwards and what her medical treatment was. And that’s an opportunity that’s part of what we call the discovery phase and a lot of suits. So it allows them to discover information that might be relevant to evaluating the claim, preparing their defenses and maybe deciding whether or not it’s a case that they want to settle.
Ryan McKeen (09:05):
Now, one of the things that, you know, some folks you know, they, they, they, they think that there’s some formula for valuing personal injury cases and some folks, they say, you know, two times meds, three times meds, four times meds. In this case, you know, what were the medical bills and can you tell us a little bit about you know, sort of your take on whether or not there is a formula or is every case different and, and how you go sort of about those things and establishing a value on these cases.
Hailey Rice (09:40):
I think first and foremost, every case is unique. There are a hundred different things on any given set of facts that is going to factor into the overall value of the case. That being said, the medical bills are always a place that insurance company, these tend to start. So there’s something that I like to look at in for no other reason than they’re going to help me anticipate the way that the insurance company is valuing the case and any potential objections that I’m going to get to my demand. Mmm. In some cases, you know, starting off at double or triple the medical bills is something that’s warranted. And that’s technique that, you know, I’ve used that certain times. In this particular case, the medical bills were just a little bit over $2,000. And that really didn’t reflect the, the extent of the damages in this case.
Hailey Rice (10:31):
So it’s something that I kept in mind. It was something that I was aware that the insurance company was going to take a look at. But the objective of a personal injury lawsuit is really to make the plaintiff whole, as we say. And what that means is that as to, to do as best as, as we all can, to restore the plaintiff to their position before the incident happened. And that’s a little bit harder to do when you’re dealing with it. Anxieties and some of these less tangible injuries. So, you know, we can look at what it costs to go to the hospital. We can look at what it costs to get some antibiotics and some treatment. But when it comes to those intangible damages about being afraid to go out running that’s something where you really have to have a conversation with a client and talk to them about that and, and do what you can to evaluate those. And that won’t always be reflected in the medical bills
Ryan McKeen (11:23):
And that, that’s, that’s I think a really good, important point that, you know, folks need to know that these, every case is really unique and every set of case, every set of facts is unique. And you know, it’s really important I think as you did Hailey in this case, for lawyers to really understand their client’s story, to spend that time to listen to them and to support them in telling their story in inappropriate form. In this case it was a deposition. And Hailey, I just want to end, you know, if, if somebody’s out there you know, has been, has been bitten by a dog and in Connecticut, what advice do you have for them?
Hailey Rice (12:03):
Number one, get the treatment that you need. I think a lot of people have a tendency to look at, you know, dog bites and say, well, you know, I don’t know if I should really see a doctor about this. There’s so many options right now with telemedicine. Always be, you know, more safe than sorry. See somebody right away, either virtually or in person just to make sure, because the risk of infection is very hard. Number two consult with an attorney when you can soon after the incident just to, just to know what your rights are and what happened. It’s really important to, to have the full extent of the picture. And I think sometimes people, I feel bad because they’re animal lovers. You know, they feel sympathetic to the owner who might be worried about their dog and, and things like that.
Hailey Rice (12:48):
So an attorney can really give you a full picture as to what your rights may be, what the next steps in courses of action would be. And it’s really important as well as soon as you can afterwards, once you’re safe to report the incident to the police. Dogs that are attacking and biting people need, there needs to be a record of that kind of behavior with the local animal control office so that they can investigate the incident fully and make sure that the dog is safe to be interacting with the public so that nobody else gets hurt.
Ryan McKeen (13:19):
And that’s, that’s a really important point. Hailey and I, and I know when we talked to folks about, you know, being bitten by a dog, a lot of folks are dog lovers and a lot of folks have, you know, concerns about what will happen to the dog. And this is, this is a civil case. So civil cases in Connecticut are, are only about money. It’s the only thing that they, that they can be about. But what, what happened to the dog in this case? Cause I know a lot of folks are concerned that maybe if they contact the lawyer or they contact animal control, that the dog is going to be automatically put down.
Hailey Rice (13:52):
No. And that, that as my understanding does not happen on a first offense with the dog. Or sometimes I think there are other explanations that may avoid that situation. Generally speaking. If the dog doesn’t have a vicious propensity or history or anything like that on animal control will come out, they’ll investigate and they’ll usually put in a special order that the dog owner has a certain amount of time to comply with. And the conditions that usually apply to that is that the dog may have to be muzzled when it’s out walking where it could potentially interact with somebody else. And if the dog has a history of getting out or escaping, they may be required to combine, confined the dog in a pen or a fenced in area so that they can’t break the rope or get out of the door. So usually the animal control issue and notice that the dog owner of all the conditions that the dog needs to have and then they will come back out and they’ll do a reinvestigation to make sure the owner,
Ryan McKeen (14:53):
And that’s what happened in this case. They put it, they put in an order where the dog had to be muzzled and fenced in when, when the dog went out. Correct? Correct. And I’m, well, Hailey, thank you so much for your time this morning. I’m going to put a link in the comments so how folks can reach out to you if, if they’re in need of your services. And also this was a really significant case. It was reported on by the Connecticut Law Tribune which is you know, the leading legal, we used to be a newspaper, but now say is an online publication that gets, that goes out to all many lawyers in Connecticut. So I’m also gonna post a link to that article for you. And Hailey, thank you so much for your time this morning. Thank you Ryan. Take care.